USF finds solution: Cohen, Hernandez back in a runoff

The 2010 Student Government (SG) presidential race is back on track – at least to where it was three days ago.

Following three days of internal investigations prompted by a glitch in the voting system that allowed some students to vote more than once, presidential candidates Andrew Cohen and Cesar Hernandez will go forth and compete in a runoff after spring break.

Kevin Banks, dean of students, said Wednesday night that Votenet Solutions, the company hosting online voting for USF, sent a report Tuesday showing 255 duplicate votes. SG disqualified and removed the votes from the election results and recounted.

When the new results were totaled, there were 3,980 – compared to 4,235 initially in the election – and nothing changed in how the candidates ranked. Students who had majors in two different colleges could vote more than once – some even voted three times, Banks said.

“It was all across all five tickets,” Banks said. “It looks like it was definitely connected to the double majors piece that Votenet was working on so that this doesn’t happen in the future … People that had a major say in the College of (the) Arts could vote in another college for the presidential candidates.”

Hernandez claimed 32.4 percent, or 1,289, and Cohen came in second with 25.5 percent, or 1,017 – both less than one-tenth of a percentage in change from the previous results.

Christopher Leddy came in third (982 votes), Tim Moore finished fourth (281 votes) and Daniel Dunn finished last (223 votes). There were 188 “no preference” votes.

On Tuesday, CEO of Votenet Michael Tuteur said his company took “full responsibility” for the mishap. However, after the company conducted the report, he said Wednesday that it found the problem was on the University’s end.

Tuteur said USF provided voter lists to register with approximately 250 IDs showing up on multiple lists – allowing them to file more than one vote.

Banks said SG Adviser Gary Manka worked before the election with Student Affairs Information Technologies (SAIT) to compile and send the lists. SAIT handled the communication between Votenet and SG, Banks said.

Manka, who deferred all direct questions to Banks, said via e-mail that SG pays Votenet between $5,000 to $7,000 per year to host the voting.

Votenet’s software, known as eBallot, has been in service for 10 years, and it’s been used through Blackboard before and has never had an issue with double voting or fraud, Tuteur said. USF tested the software before the election, but Banks said perhaps it should have been more thorough.

“I don’t know if we thought broad enough about double majors,” he said. “And, again, by simply changing the ballots we could have maybe changed this problem.”

Banks said one thing SG will do is change a portion of the certifying process by having Votenet send a print out of results and have the Election Rules Commission (ERC) supervisor, who is supposed to certify the election, check for double voting.

This year, Manka, who said he was informed of voting discrepancies on Monday, overruled supervisor Michael LeBlanc and certified the elections Friday because of the “political intrigue,” meaning the high number of grievances filed this year against candidates during the race.

Cohen was sanctioned five points by the ERC last week during the elections after Dunn filed a grievance involving a Facebook photo, in which he appears to be holding a gun and a container of alcohol.

The grievance cited reckless behavior. Cohen, however, appealed to the Supreme Court on Wednesday and said the ERC should have no authority to sanction the points. He said that while it may have been irresponsible, it had no connection to his campaign.

“The ERC’s role is to govern elections, not to find students guilty of the Student Code of Conduct,” he said.

But LeBlanc said he consulted with the ERC members and three of five felt it fell under their jurisdiction, so it went through with the sanctions. Cohen read off the ERC’s Rules of Procedures: “points may be assessed by the Election Rules Commission for election-related Student Code of Conduct violations.”

The Supreme Court has 48 hours to make a decision on the issued points.

“Basically, (the Student Code of Conduct) says if anyone does anything reckless … that can be held against them,” LeBlanc said. “And we felt that because of possible injuries that could come from this use of a photo on an election resource that that fell under the meaning of that rule.”

LeBlanc thwarted another grievance from Leddy filed this week claiming Cohen, SG director of University and Community Affairs, updated his Facebook statuses endorsing his campaign while on the clock – a violation of SG statutes.

LeBlanc said because Leddy did not officially file a grievance until after Manka certified the election, he won’t accept them. SG Attorney General Cordell Chavis wrote an opinion Wednesday night, confirming that statutes state no grievance may be accepted once the election has been certified.

“I’m just shocked that they’ve decided not to hear after everything happened … or to even look at the grievance,” Leddy said. “The attorney general gave his legal opinion to Mr. LeBlanc, and Mr. LeBlanc is standing by that.”

Cohen, who is running with Matthew Diaz, said he’s ready to move on with the runoff and put the matter behind him.

“I’m so happy for the students,” he said. “Just like I said before, whether I win or Cesar wins, the students are going to get a good leader, and that’s what matters.”

Hernandez, who is running with Spencer Montgomery, said his campaign won’t change anything in approaching the upcoming runoff.

“We’ve got our game plan. We’re staying on course,” he said. “My entire campaign, we’re just looking forward to it. I can talk to a lot more people, so that gives me a lot more time to get the word out.”

Manka said the new runoff should be scheduled for March 16 – 17.

Banks said USF worked to put safeguards in so the same problems don’t happen again with Votenet. He also said he’ll work with SG and decide if it will continue to outsource its voting through Votenet in the future.

“I really think it warrants that we think differently about how we run elections and really put in some sort of full-time supervision in some capacity to ensure we’re thinking as broadly as possible,” he said.