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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Editorial: Bring secure and open elections to the Union

Published: March 24, 2006
Section: Opinions

A Hoot investigation into the UNET election system has exposed a disturbingly fatal flaw that undermines the democratic intent behind our elections. By not ensuring that only eligible students were allowed to vote, the system has breached the trust that students place onto it to ensure free and fair elections. To this end, all results from the last round of elections should be voided and a new election, using paper ballots, should be held.

The Hoot investigation revealed that during every all-campus or senior election this year members of the Class of 2005 have been permitted to vote. More troubling is that their votes, we believe, were recorded on the results page as if they were seniors. This means that it is impossible to tell from the results available to Union election commissioners how many members of the Class of 2005 cast ballots in all previous election during this academic year. The Hoot has confirmed that at least seven alumni voted in the last election and that at least one voted in the Fair Trade Coffee Referendum.

It is disgraceful that the Student Union runs on an election system whose results arent verifiable and whose source code is not available to any community member for inspection. Any future electronic election systems must make publicly (online) available not only the results but a list of students who voted to verify that only those eligible to vote actually did. This system must have these results available for all Union members to see not just privileged system administrators and the few election commissioners.

Another troubling discovery from this election debacle is that Student Union officials have known about the flaw for some time now. Although these same officials have been asking Library & Technology Services (LTS) for several months to address the problem, they have neglected to inform their constituents that such a problem existed and that it could have adversely affected many other campus wide votes.
Furthermore, LTS should be ashamed for not addressing this problem in a timely manner or at least letting the students know that this problem has yet to be dealt with. We understand that recently there have been numerous unexpected and unpredictable failures in e-mail and myBrandeis systems that have kept LTS staffers busy, but hold that LTS should have still contacted members of the Union and told them that these problems would still persist.

We have come to believe that the most probable cause of this error is the switch to using PeopleSoft several years ago and thus it is probably no ones fault that this error occurred. However, this is no excuse to continue using a system we know to be broken.

The reason we are so firm on ditching the electronic system is we may have only identified a single problem. There could be countless of other unknown problems with the system, such as the bug that allowed students to cast multiple ballots which was allegedly discovered and fixed in 2003. Thus we reaffirm that until students have a way of knowing with quantitative certainty that there is nothing wrong with the electronic election system, paper ballots should be used instead.

The Union should promptly set up a taskforce to understand the scope of the election problem and to come up with a resolution. Whether the appropriate resolution is a permanent switch to paper balloting or a commissioning of programmers to rewrite election code is too early to tell. Whatever, the solution, the current system needs to be abolished.

On a different note, its nice to see that Sclarisics mom still receives votes in union elections.