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Election left in limbo

The CEO of the business sponsoring USF Student Government (SG)’s online election ballots says the company takes “full responsibility” for the glitch that caused the invalidation of the 2010 presidential voting results.

Michael Tuteur, CEO of VoteNet Solutions, said Tuesday night that a problem on the company’s end allowed some students who have majors in two different colleges to log on through Blackboard and vote twice, though he’s not certain what technically caused the glitch.

The error sparked an internal investigation by SG on Monday, with officials trying to figure out discrepancies, and the results of the presidential portion, which were announced Friday in the Marshall Student Center (MSC), were thrown out, said SG Adviser Gary Manka.

Now, the University will review a full report from VoteNet today that will show how many students voted more than once, Kevin Banks, USF dean of students, said on Tuesday night.

The total number of votes tallied in the election was 4,235. Manka, who signed off on the results, said no other portions of the ballot – senate seats or amendments – were affected.

Instead of doing a new election involving all the presidential candidates like the Election Rules Commission (ERC) proposed Tuesday, USF is going to disqualify the duplicate votes and recertify the election based on who participated, Banks said.

Supervisor of the ERC Michael LeBlanc informed candidates Monday night that there would be a new election after spring break and all of them would be allowed to participate.

However, Banks said he spoke to LeBlanc and advised him to call it off until VoteNet’s report comes.

If the report comes back and shows a large discrepancy, the ERC will go ahead with a new election involving all candidates, Banks said.

However, if there were only a small amount of discrepancies – small enough that it didn’t change the results – the ERC could proceed with a runoff after spring break between presidential candidates Andrew Cohen and Cesar Hernandez, who finished in the top two spots and were supposed to have a runoff this week.

“At this point, we worked so hard and we really just are hoping and waiting to see what will happen,” Hernandez said Tuesday. “This is big. An entire month of January campaigning and it comes down to the tally of votes.”

But there’s another scenario that could pit Hernandez in a runoff against opponent Christopher Leddy. If USF disqualifies the duplicate votes and Leddy – who only came in third behind Cohen by 15 votes – moves into second, he could face Hernandez in a runoff after spring break.

“It’s just refreshing to know that democracy is at work here and that they’re not going to let the double votes ruin the election,” Leddy said. “We are in limbo right now, but its’sokay. Everything is up in the air right now.”

VoteNet’s software, known as eBallot, has been in service for 10 years. It’s been used through Blackboard before and has never had an issue with double voting or fraud, Tuteur said. But he said sometimes through customization for each client, mistakes happen.

“It wasn’t a massive glitch, but it may have something to do with trying to use our regular voting software and adding customizations on top or, in this case, trying to integrate student information,” he said.

LeBlanc also said he heard that the same problem occurred in the 2009 student body election, and SG’s Advising and Training Office (SGATO) made several requests to ensure this would not happen again.

Michael van Hoek, supervisor of the ERC in 2009, said Tuesday night that there was not double voting last year. He said the software had a safeguard that recognized student IDs and prevented any student from voting twice.

LeBlanc said he received a couple of complaints early in the election from students this year that double voting occurred, but it wasn’t clear what people meant in their complaint.

On Friday, he received multiple complaints from people saying they could vote twice, and he informed Manka.

“Essentially, (SG) relied on a company that promised us services that they did not provide,” LeBlanc said in a statement.

VoteNet Solutions has offices around the country, including Washington, D.C., and Kansas City, and it has clients like the Major League Soccer team Seattle Sounders and the University of California at Berkeley.

Tuteur said the company has served more than 17 million voters in 10 years and had about 23,000 balloting events. He said the maximum number of difficulties per year is around two or three.

“Sometimes issues come from client data. Sometimes it comes from who is able to vote,” he said. “Unfortunately, when we do customizations for (each client) there are potential problems. We’re sometimes at the mercy of the universities because of voting reports coming in at the last minute.

“The blame is on us. The University didn’t do anything wrong from what we can tell. We’re trying to get into the technical bottom of it to see what happened.”

USF tested the software with the company Feb. 21 to help work out kinks with IP addresses at off-campus locations. VoteNet finished processing the IP addresses Feb. 22.

LeBlanc said at the time that students were not allowed to vote more than once, but he was concerned candidates could hold gatherings off campus and have students come and vote – a problem past elections have had as well.

On campus, students were allowed to vote at these locations: Andros, Argos and Juniper-Poplar housing complexes, Cooper Hall, the Library Commons, College of Engineering, College of Business, College of Nursing, College of Public Health Lab, MSC and Greek Village.

Additional reporting by Diedra Rodriguez