Elections Update: Elections rescheduled for September

After the results of student government’s April 24 election were tampered with and ultimately invalidated, the prospective candidates for Student Body President, Vice President, and Vice President of Finance voted against holding another election during finals week in favor of scheduling the next – and hopefully last – election next September.

On May 4 the 1933 votes placed by students during the previous election would not be able to be retrieved due to tampering of the electronic key used to encrypt and decrypt the results.

The details of the tampering, "based on the way the judicial process works, may not ever be revealed,” said Meg Richards, senior computer science major and Elections Board chair, at the board’s May 8 meeting.

This is the second time the election was postponed after it had already begun. The original elections were scheduled for April 9, but rescheduled for April 24 due to a lack of candidates. The April 24 elections began as planned but were stopped due to coding errors in the voting website that prevented some students from being able to place their votes.

On May 8, the Student Government Elections Board discussed its next steps. The candidates voted 22-1 to hold an election during finals week rather than in the fall.

The board also suggested providing paper ballots to graduating seniors and departing graduate students before they leave campus.

"We're impartial; there are pros and cons to both courses of action, which is why we won't proceed without unanimous agreement from the candidates," said Gina Casalegno, director of student activities and co-chair of the Elections Board, at the meeting.

But the board ultimately decided against the finals week election, opting to postpone the election until the following semester.

“If the executive branch candidates agreed that running the election during this period was the best option for the student body, then elections would have begun on Thursday, May 10,” Casalegno stated via e-mail. “Not all candidates were in favor of the plan the board advanced, so the board did not pursue this option.”

After the May 8 meeting, the election process was further delayed by another unrelated oversight. On May 9, Richards discovered that the Elections Board had never been approved by the Graduate Student Association (GSA) as required by the student government constitution, according to an internal e-mail Richards sent to the Elections Board on May 9. The Board was unable to continue its function until it was formally approved by the GSA.

The error was an oversight resulting from the GSA’s transition to new leadership at the beginning of the semester. The new GSA president, statistics doctoral candidate Elizabeth Ayers, was never told that the assembly was responsible for granting such approval, according to Casalegno.

Once members of the Student Activities staff, GSA President, Senate Chair and the Elections Board Chair identified the oversight, GSA voted electronically to approve the slate, Casalegno explained.

The approval was finalized on May 16, the same day the board held its next meeting.

At that meeting, the board decided to offer paper ballots to graduating seniors and graduate students who would not be returning next fall. That group placed their votes on May 17 and 18, prior to graduation.

Germaine Williams, the Graduate Student Association (GSA)’s student body vice president of finance and Ph.D. candidate in History, will act as the interim Student Body President until a new candidate is elected, in accordance with constitutional bylaws. Williams has the option to appoint a SBVP-Finance to make decisions about closing all JFC-funded student organization accounts during the fiscal close in July, Casalegno said.

Williams has not chosen an individual to fill this position.

The Elections Board assured the candidates that it is working with Carnegie Mellon’s Information Security Office to ensure that the system will never be tampered with in the same way again.

Though no online voting system will ever be completely foolproof, Carnegie Mellon’s next one “will be as secure as any online voting system can be,” Richards said.

“The Elections Board and student government leadership has been working closely with Carnegie Mellon's Information Security Office to identify what needs to occur to either modify or rebuild a secure online voting application,” she said.

Casalegno agreed.

The next election will be held from Monday, September 3 at 7 p.m. through Wednesday, September 5 at 7 p.m. Student government leaders, Election Board members, and Student Affairs staff made the decision.

But for some, a September ending for this year’s elections may be an ending too late.

"A lot of people who I've talked to are sick and tired of this whole election process," said Sudeep Paul, candidate for vice president of finance and senior in business administration and economics, at the meeting.