Protecting votes from the evils of online
Voting for this year’s Student Government elections will be online for the sixth year at USF.
“Student Government online voting is convenient and easy for students to use,” said Jennifer Morris, the business coordinator for SG. “Using an online voting system saves SG thousands of dollars and hundreds of personnel hours as compared to a manual system.”
The actual election site, www.usf.edu/vote, was set up five years ago and now gets updated with new information for each election. The Election Rules Commission and Morris will only have to plug in information such as names into the site.
There have not been any major issues with USF’s elections since the inception of online voting. Some other schools around the country haven’t been so lucky in the new age of cyberballots.
In March of 2003, The Crimson White, the student newspaper for the University of Alabama, reported that their Student Government election results had to be tossed out due to problems associated with online voting. Dozens of students complained that the election site told them they had already voted when they visited the site for the first time. The school had to hold an entirely new election with paper ballots.
While no one was charged with rigging the election, it is suspected that the deed was committed by UA’s on-campus political machine that supposedly has been deciding elections there by various means for around 100 years.
USF’s voting is run through the same secure server as OASIS, so students have to log in as they would when they register for classes or check their grades. The only way for something like what happened at UA to happen at USF would be if someone gathered students’ OASIS login information.
Also in 2003, an online student election at the University of California Riverside was hacked into, according to the Associated Press. “American Ninja,” a fictitious candidate with 800 votes, theoretically won the election even though he was not running. In that case, a senior majoring in computer science who was fascinated by the movie American Ninja found an exploitable flaw in their system and decided to take advantage of it.
He said that he did it to show the university that the elections could be compromised. A university spokesman at the time noted that, “an e-mail would have sufficed.”
The student responsible was charged with a misdemeanor and sentenced to 28 days of community service and three years of probation, according to UCR student newspaper The Highlander.
Any exploitable weakness in the SG election site would essentially be an exploitable weakness in OASIS.
“The (election) site is housed on secure USF web servers,” Morris said. “These are the same servers that house the university’s registration, financial and personnel systems.
“The voting site has never been hacked.”
The ERC still has to be prepared for the worst, however.
“The ERC will push back the election dates if there are any problems with the online voting,” said Marigelle Malapira, a member of the ERC.
“We are confident the online voting will run smoothly,” she said. “We are currently taking steps to test the system and ensure there will be no glitches when voting begins.”