Online voting glitches?

By Chris Beauchamp

Potential flaws in the online voting system used in this year’s Students’ Union Gen- eral Election raise new issues to be resolved at the SU Review Board hearing on Thu., Mar. 18.

In a letter received Feb. 12, Sorex Software Inc. stated the "integrity of the data is intact." However, in a second letter dated Mar. 12, Sorex "discovered an issue that allows for the possibility for the system to mix up one voter for another."

"We found a potential for a problem," said Director of Sorex Software Inc. Marc Wrubleski.

According to Wrubleski, the online voting software was created by Sorex in collaboration with the SU at a cost of $12,000. This is the third election run on the Sorex system costing the SU $1,500 per election.

Wrubleski said the system slowed down due to the larger than normal ballot size and "significantly larger HTML data" in the ballot code. He attributes the extraneous formatting to the code being written on word processor software as opposed to an HTML editor.

"I believe [Chief Returning Officer Shuvaloy Majumdar] created the HTML data for the ballot," he said. "Unbeknownst to him it was too large."

Wrubleski asserted there are procedures in place to create a ballot but they were not "communicated on paper."

"The process was followed properly," he said. "It’s just that the tool used to create the HTML created too much formatting.

"The slow down may have caused some voters to leave their voting stations before their ballot was complete," Wrubleski said. "This could have allowed another voter to [log in] and complete the first voter’s ballot."

He noted the system was designed to ensure individual voters remain anonymous and therefore it is impossible to trace the number of instances this may have occurred. He stressed Sorex is not supposed to have a part in ballot creation.

Majumdar was contacted but directed all inquiries to SU President Jayna Gilchrist. She stated the program used by Majumdar to create the ballot was a "home system," designed specifically for ballot creation.

"To find out if the ballots are compatible we do testing and checking after they are created," she said.

The Review Board hearing was granted in response to a petition by failed presidential candidate Phil Barski on behalf of candidates running as part of his "Barski’s Cabinet" slate. Barski’s petition alleges Sorex violated a number of SU election bylaws. Citing irregularities in the online voting system, including voters logging in to find their ballots already selected or even closed, the petition claims system crashes "affected the overall integrity of the election process and compromised the election result." The petition calls for an independent audit of the election results.

Barski and members of his slate refused to speak with the Gauntlet.

The Review Board has the authority to overturn the election entirely which would mean a new general election would be called, starting with the nomination process. The results of all referenda could also be affected by the outcome of the hearing.

"We’re most angry for the students," said SU President-elect Brian West, speaking on behalf of the incoming SU Executive Cabinet. "This is the biggest election we’ve had in over a decade. To cast a shadow over the validity of it is frustrating."

West said he would run again if the Review Board overturns the election, but is concerned student apathy will again plague the election process.

"I don’t think it’s possible we will be able to draw out the same numbers as last time," said West. "The last election took at least a month of our lives. It was an intense campaign and something I didn’t want to repeat a couple of months later."

West believes any system problems would have affected each candidate equally and therefore do not affect the validity of the election.

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