Online voting for ASI elections under way

Online voting for the Associated Students, Inc. (ASI) elections began Tuesday as planned, but not without a  setback for some students.

A second wave of e-mails containing unique passwords and usernames for eligible voters was forced out following an internal service error that delayed notice to some Fresno State students. The messages were supposed to reach approximately 18,800 eligible students.

The e-mails provided a link and access information to VoteNet, the online e-ballot voting system ASI has contracted to tabulate the votes. This is the second year that ASI has used the e-ballot system.

The ASI Faculty Advisor, Gary Nelson, said last year when the online voting system was launched, they experienced no problems with the system.

“It worked well last year,” Nelson said. “We did make some changes this year. Primarily because we wanted to avoid possibilities of problems.”

Last year, Nelson said, ASI sent students an e-mail after they voted. This served two purposes: to acknowledge the students who voted and it served as a safety net to catch potential voter fraud.

“Even though we got nothing like that last year, we still wanted to prevent any problems that were a possibility,” Nelson said.

Tara Powers-Mead, director of university affairs for Associated Students, Inc., said that the university switched to online adapted voting because it is a full-proof method.

“It is an easier process on our end,” Powers-Mead said. “There is no human error when counting ballots.”

Powers-Mead also said that the online system saves ASI a lot of paper and labor. From the switch, ASI was able to donate thirty tree seedlings to Sustainable Harvest International, a relief organization that fights Central American deforestation and poverty.

“In the previous years, students voted by going on to the site and logging in with their e-mail address and student identification number,“ she said.

With the online system, students are locked out after they vote, eliminating the chance of voting twice.

Despite precautions employed to protect against voter fraud in previous years, it was brought to ASI’s attention that some students were able to access the PeopleSoft ID numbers of other students and possibly alter the results of the election by voting on that student’s behalf.

Powers-Mead said when students petition, they have to gather signatures. Signees are required to provide their ID number to validate their status as a student after signing a petition. Powers-Mead said this presented a potential flaw within the older structure.

“This information was not as secure as we would have liked it,” Powers-Mead said. “That is why this year we decided to dedicate an individual user ID and password to every eligible voter.”

Yet, this did not come without its flaws. A message was sent to students’ e-mails Tuesday morning stating technical difficulties had prevented some ASI election e-mails from reaching their destinations. The message also stated that voting can only be done during the set polling dates and times which take place on Tuesday, March 23 at 8 a.m. through Thursday, March 25 at noon.

Jim Michael, associate director for information and technology services (ITS), said they were notified that some of the messages had not gone through because of the university’s spam filters.

The filters classified the incoming messages from Votenet as a “top Spammer,” which prevented some students from receiving the messages.

The ITS staff fixed the technical problem between 10 a.m. and 11 a.m. Tuesday morning, Michael said. The messages that were undeliverable were patched through the system and reached their destinations.

Sophomore Yesenia Velazquez, 20, said she received the e-mails prompting students to visit the Web site and now plans on voting.

“It’s important because it is the only way we can speak and be heard,” she said.

Despite the delay in the election notification and subsequent delivery of the unique username and password, Powers-Mead said that the election period will not be extended past Thursday.

According to ASI, all voting will be tallied by Votenet. In a 2004 article that ran in Education Week, the company’s director of elections software Raj Naik said the Votenet system is not flawless.

“With Internet software it’s like owning a trucking company. I can say I can get your goods there in time, but there’s always the chance of a traffic jam,” he told Education Week.

Still, there are some additional oversights in place for student voting.

Liz Shields, a member of the League of Women Voters and faculty in the Business and Finance Law department, said since the election process went online last year the League has involved itself with the tabulation of the results.

“We take the counts from the online program and process the final tallies,” Shields said in an e-mail interview to The Collegian. “Even when the league monitored the voting process for many years, the ultimate responsibility for the conduct of the election rested with 
the Election Commissioner and his/her committee.”

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