Election results inaccessible due to tampering

The results of this week’s student government elections were deemed inaccessible Wednesday evening, possibly due to malicious tampering with the electronic key that decodes the results.

Without elections results, no winners could be certified and the position of student body president, vice president, and vice president for finance became vacant. In response, Student Senate Chair Joel Bergstein and Graduate Student Assembly President Beth Ayers appointed Germaine Williams as the interim student body president immediately after the Elections Board publicly announced the problem.

The student body’s constitution empowers the Senate chair and GSA president to appoint a student body president in the event that the position becomes vacant. Williams is currently the GSA vice president for finance.

“This was an unforeseeable event,” Bergstein said. “We are doing everything in our power to correct it.” Bergstein is also a candidate for student body vice president for finance.

Bergstein and Ayers announced to a joint meeting of the GSA and Student Senate that a new election will most likely be held in September, leaving candidates in limbo while a new election plan is finalized. Bergstein said he expected that only those eligible to vote in this week’s election would be eligible to vote in the next.

According the Meg Richards, the Elections Board chair, a timestamp on the encryption key indicates that the file was modified on Monday at 2:08 p.m., after the elections had begun and the encryption had been implemented.

Carnegie Mellon’s Information Security Office is investigating the situation, according to Director of Student Development John Hannon, and significant disciplinary action could result if any students are found to be responsible.

Ballot data is immediately encrypted when voters cast their ballots online. The encryption makes the ballot data unintelligible until the password-protected key is used to decrypt that data. According to Richards, the encryption key was altered in some way that makes it unable to decrypt the data. Richards does not expect the results to be recoverable.

“For all of us running, it's disappointing,” said Joe Arasin, a candidate for student body vice president. “We're disappointed the results aren't available right now.”

During the joint meeting of Student Senate and GSA, originally scheduled so the bodies could validate the elections, candidates expressed concern that holding elections in the fall would be unfair, since graduating seniors would be less likely to vote.

“It's really a fitting culmination to this year's elections process,” student body presidential candidate Sean Weinstock stated in an e-mail. “The voters must feel that the system is intact if we are to ever take student government seriously.”

“I just hope that people in the community won't get apathetic towards this process,” said Alan Eaton, a current Student Senator and fellow presidential candidate. “I'm really proud that almost 2000 people voted in the first place, because it shows that people are interested.”

Between Monday morning and Wednesday at 1p.m., when the election was concluded, voters cast 1933 ballots online.

Until a new election takes place, Williams, a Ph.D. candidate in history, will be responsible for the operation of the executive branch of student government.

"I appreciate the great vote of confidence that Beth and Joel have shown by identifying me as their choice for interim student body president," Williams wrote in an e-mail.

"A number of difficult questions need to be answered quickly. I have every confidence that the Elections Board, Student Senate, and Graduate Student Assembly are capable of finding equitable solutions to the problems presented by this unfortunate situation."

During the summer months, it is the vice president for finance who tends to have the most active role. Williams may choose to assume the role or appoint an interim from the student body.

According to the student body constitution, students must submit a petition with 100 signatures to be considered for the role of interim student body president or interim student body vice president for finance, but student government officials waived this requirement.

A revote will likely take place in September, in which case those eligible in the last election will be eligible to vote in the fall. No new student would be able to vote.