Technical difficulties: Elections freeze up on students

Due to technical difficulties, student government elections have been postponed to today, April 30, through Wednesday, May 2. The postponement, the second in the past three weeks, is the result of the latest in a series of issues Student Senate has had to combat over the past few weeks, from the original lack of candidate interest to the overloading and consequent shutdown of its elections website.

The elections were originally scheduled for Tuesday, April 9 but were rescheduled due to lack of candidates.

The Elections Board received some petitions but was still below the minimum threshold.

“The elections were really poorly advertised [this year],” said Karl Sjogren, a senior in public policy and the current student body president. “Hardly anyone knew when they were or where to turn their petitions in to.”

The extra time provided by the delay did give more people the chance to get involved. For the first time since 2004, elections featured four teams of presidential and vice presidential candidates. Originally, no Senate petitions were received from students in CFA or MCS; after the elections were postponed, students in these colleges submitted petitions.

In total, there are 49 competitive seats on the ballot, according to Meg Richards, chair of the Elections Board and a senior in computer science.
In addition, Richards said, more MCS students are planning to run for Senate through the write-in process, a way in which students can become elected to the Senate even if they missed the petition deadline.

Students began voting online as scheduled last Tuesday at midnight.

The first problem was discovered at 2 a.m. The elections website automatically matched the names of presidential candidates with their respective vice presidential candidates. This created a problem for those presidential candidates also running for Senate because the computer automatically matched the vice president candidate with the president’s name in the senate spot, in effect adding additional names to the Senate ballots of students who were not actually running.

“Due to the time of the year, I can understand these problems,” said Kelly Duncan, a junior physics and math major and a candidate for student body vice president of finance, “but voting for Student Senate is something that cannot be put to the wayside.”

The elections were put off until noon to fix the problem.

“For the future, we should look at creating a formal testing process,” said Joe Arasin, senior computer science major and public policy master’s student and student body vice president candidate. “This should include test runs earlier in the semester to hopefully find any issues before they occur.”

The elections resumed at noon for five minutes until another error was discovered. Between 2 a.m. and noon, when the website was unavailable, some students had unknowingly bypassed the message on the elections homepage and voted.

At that point, Richards said, the Elections Board decided that the election could not possibly be considered fair to all participants, the Board canceled all the votes it had received up to that point and postponed the election.

However, some students had not been able to vote for any part of the elections.

The Excel spreadsheet of all active undergraduates and graduates had been loaded into the software. However, once voting began, the software had reverted to last year’s list, preventing first-years and first-year graduate students from voting. When those students tried to cast their votes, they received an error message stating that the system could not recognize their vote.

Previously, a group of students, now seniors and alumni, had been in charge of updating the software for each year. This year, they stepped back, and allowed other students to take control.

“This was a rough adjustment year,” Richards said. “We did the best we could considering the circumstances.”

Mock elections had been run before each proposed election date as they had in previous years. The simulated election consists of an Elections Board member logging onto the database as a student from each college and voting for the open positions to ensure that the site will work for all students. These test runs had not been problematic.

At 12:15 p.m. on Tuesday, the Elections Board and student government decided to postpone the elections to May 1.

The changes may ultimately persuade more students to vote in the final elections, Sjogren said.

“Controversy breeds greater PR and public knowledge and interests,” he said.

In a similar elections delay in 2004, almost 500 more students voted in the postponed election than did in the original one.

Last year, about 12 percent of the undergraduate and graduate population voted in student government elections, which amounts to approximately 1200 students, according to university data. Five hundred students have the potential to seriously alter the election results.

“Student goverment and the Elections Board have been very forthcoming about the elections timeline, even with the technical difficulties. Campus media organizations have helped keep the community informed. Students themselves have a vested interest in their representatives,” said Richards. “There’s no excuse for not knowing at this point.”

The candidates themselves seem to be unshaken by the election mishaps.

“The postponement has raised our confidence,” said Arasin of himself and his running mate, presidential candidate Serge Egelman, a graduate student in software engineering. “We have the strongest platform and the extra time leads to a more informed electorate, which can only help us.”

Students can vote starting today at 12:01 a.m. until Wednesday at 1 p.m. online and in Kirr Commons during the day on Tuesday from 2:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Wednesday from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Results are expected by the end of the week.