With Student Government (SG) elections beginning today, officials said they have prepared to prevent last year’s voting discrepancies from recurring.
As a result of technical problems with the online voting system last spring, some students were allowed to cast more than one ballot, leading to an internal investigation and a runoff election between the top two candidates.
Gary Manka, SG adviser, said a 24-hour report was worked into the school’s contract with Votenet Solutions, the company that hosts USF SG elections, after last year’s problems. The report comes at a cost of about $500, he said.
“Anytime we make a mistake of a small or large magnitude, it reflects poorly on our image,” he said. “In my opinion, the issue’s been solved. You can’t predict the future of technology, but based on the steps we’ve taken this year to stop double voting and (get) a better contract, double check the files, we’ve done everything we can to make it work.”
Last year, the voting process was tied to the colleges students majored in. When students logged in with their personal Net-ID, they would be taken to a ballot specific to their college. However, those with majors in separate colleges had the number of votes equal to the amount of colleges in which they were enrolled, Manka said.
During spring 2010 elections, 255 duplicate votes were uncovered.
This year, the voting process, which is done through Votenet’s eBallot software, has been altered so that when students log in with their Net-ID they will be allowed to vote for a presidential ticket, which is independent from students’ majoring colleges, before being taken to a separate senatorial ballot that is dependent on their college enrollment.
“This year, we separated the ballots,” Manka said. “We have the presidential, vice-presidential, student body vote with the Our Shirts referendum, (where students vote between two shirt designs for a $5 USF shirt, to be available in the Campus Bookstore) and with the mandatory student health fee referendum on one ballot that will go to every student in the system.”
Senate voting will be separate from the student body presidential vote and the two referendums. Once students complete their presidential ballot, they will be allowed to vote for senators to represent the college in which they are enrolled.
Students who have not declared a major will be allowed to vote in the college of their choice.
James Bodden, supervisor of Senate elections, said voters will be advised not to double vote if they are presented the opportunity, whether by a glitch in the system or computer hacking.
“Before each ballot, there will be a disclaimer saying if you double vote there could be consequences in terms of being sent to (the Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities) and your vote will be discounted,” he said.
Bodden said changes are also in store for polling stations. There will be eight locations in total: outside of Cooper Hall, inside and outside of the Library, in front of the Argos and Andros dining halls, in the Greek Village mail room, in the main lobby of Juniper-Poplar and the Amphitheater and SG Computer Services IN the Marshall Student Center. Last year, the Election Rules Commission was required by SG statutes to have at least 10 polling stations open at all times. This year, that number has been reduced to five.
“It’s really hard to man a staff, and after a while, places just get tapped out,” Bodden said. “So if you’re in front of a residence hall, everyone votes and then you just keep seeing the same people over and over again. So we wouldn’t be able to close those down.”
Last year, statutes also instituted IP restrictions across campus. However, this year, students can vote from any location — on and off campus.
“Last year, we had IP restrictions, so … only certain IP addresses on campus would be opened up,” Bodden said. “Let’s say you were in the computer lab, they would have unrestricted IPs. But say you were out in MLK plaza (and) you connected to the Wi-Fi, that IP would be restricted. So, pretty much, it forced you to go to certain places and vote there.”
Only SG computers were able to perform the function of voting on campus. Bodden said they were trying to avoid mobile polling stations, which is the use of any laptop, PDA, cell phone or other portable device by candidates, groups or individuals on behalf of a candidate for the purposes of voting in any election, according to SG statutes.
“In 2001-02, there was an explosion of mobile polling stations and they just had a reactionary law written for it,” he said. “There is always a potential that someone will (host a voting party), but we trust that the candidates won’t do it based on the severity of the punishment.”
Bodden said it was a matter of convenience to unblock IPs. Andrew Uhlir, supervisor of elections, said he hopes voting increases as a result. He said UCF doesn’t restrict IPs and its voting turnout last year was about 10,000.
In the spring 2010 UCF student body presidential elections, 9,420 students had their votes cast in an election that did not require a runoff. UCF’s enrollment as of fall 2010 was 56,235 students. Last year, USF had 3,980 voters, with 2,587 voters returning for the runoff. USF’s enrollment as of fall 2010 was 47,576 students.
“I don’t want to guess in case I’m wrong,” Uhlir said. “(But) I expect a good turnout this year, higher than last year, thanks to no IP restrictions.”
Students can vote Monday through Thursday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Along with polling stations, they can vote by visiting the SG website at sg.usf.edu and clicking the voting link or through Blackboard.