SU Election overturned

By Chris Beauchamp

In light of potential flaws in the online voting system, the Students’ Union Review Board has declared the 2004 SU General Election invalid. The Review Board’s decision calls for a new election to be held, including referendum questions and constitutional ammendments.

SU President Jayna Gilchrist said the SU would be appealing the case to the SU Tribunal. The Tribunal is the SU’s highest judicial authority.

"Obviously we’re tremendously concerned about the impact this decision will have on the lives of all students," said Gilchrist. "We’re gathering information and creating our appeal for the Tribunal."

The Thu., Mar. 18 Review Board hearing was petitioned by failed presidential candidate Phil Barski on behalf of candidates running as part of his "Barski’s Cabinet" slate. Originally calling for an external audit of the election, Barski’s Cabinet member and External Commissioner-elect Matthew Jenkins, acting as counsel for the petitioner, asked the petition be amended to instead declare the election invalid. The amendment was based on an acknowledgement by Mark Wrubleski, Director of Sorex Software Inc., the company who developed the software used in the election, that there was the potential for some students to vote twice, while others may have been denied the right to vote altogether.

Bill Quigley, legal counsel for the SU, cited four provincial and territorial cases which involved contested votes to establish a precedent for who bears the burden of evidence. He argued the burden falls on the petitioner.

Quigley stressed it is the petitioner’s responsibility to establish that the election was not conducted in accordance with the bylaws and that the outcome was materially affected by the infractions.

"His evidence alone doesn’t get them past step one," said Quigley, referring to testimony by SU Chief Returning Officer Shuvaloy Majumdar, who said he believes the election was administered fairly.

In his summation for the petitioner, Jenkins cited SU bylaws guaranteeing members of the SU the right to vote.

"If Sorex can’t guarantee these results, how can the SU guarantee these results?" he asked.

The Review Board agreed.

"Uncontested evidence was provided that members of the electorate were unable to cast a vote," wrote Review Board Chair Arlene Blake in the Review Board’s decision. "No evidence was provided to confine the number of persons who may have been similarly affected by this error in the electronic voting system."

The Review Board found the error did materially affect the results of the election.

If the Tribunal hears the appeal, depending when a verdict would be rendered, it is possible a new election might not be called until September.

SU President-elect Bryan West said he was disappointed with the decision from his "biased standpoint."

"In my mind, I want my results to be legitimate," said West. "The Review Board came down with their decision and they had their reasons for it. We won it once, I hope we can win it again."

In a letter dated Feb. 12, Wrubleski initially reported to Majumdar that the "integrity of the data is intact." However, a single informal complaint from a student who reported attempting to vote and finding their ballot already filled in led Wrubleski to investigate further.

Called as the petitioners first witness in the hearing, Wrubleski testified that slowness in the system due to the larger-than-normal ballot size may have caused voter sessions to time out. He said students abandoning their ballot before waiting for a "session timed out" message could have inadvertently left the connection between the Infonet and the separate voting server open.

Voters were required to log on to the Infonet before being transferred to a separate internet site to cast their ballot.

In this scenario, continued Wrubleski, another student attempting to vote at the same computer within the 20 minute voting session limit, even using their own information to log on to the Infonet, would have cast their ballot using the first student’s information. This would prevent the first student from being able to try again, and would have possibly allowed the second student to cast another ballot using their own information.

He further noted the system was designed to ensure individual voters remain anonymous and therefore it is impossible to trace the number of times this may have occurred.

"There is very little I can do to disprove it," said Wrubleski, adding he believed it was a "smaller than one per cent potentiality."

"[The Review Board’s decision] definitely puts candidates, students and the organization into a bit of a twilight zone," said Laura Schultz, Vice President Academic-elect, noting issues like the U-Pass will not be resolved if the election is put off until next year. "This decision denies thousands of students who are graduating this year the right to vote. It’s a bit ironic."

Inayat Jetha, Student Legal Assistance Student Director and leader of the successful campaign to maintain the SLA levy, said he is not concerned about the decision. He sees a second election as a chance to further connect with the student body.

"We feel that we can capitalize on this new found awareness in a second campaign and potentially draw from a larger base of support," said Jetha.

Barski read a prepared statement, breaking a standing silence with the Gauntlet.

"In the words of Josh Woitas: how do you make a baby cry?" he asked, referring to West. "Give him candy and then take it away."

"I’ve been hearing a lot of this sort of stuff," said West in response. "This Review Board decision is based around the process and not any one individual. It all comes down to the Tribunal."

Quigley submitted a categorized list of the formal complaints received during the course of the election. Of the 44 complaints, eight involved students who tried to vote and received an "ID has voted" message. Wrubleski testified 32 of the complaints were filed on Tue., Feb. 10, the first day of voting, and were related to the large ballot size. The ballot was reduced before polls opened on Wed., Feb. 11 and system slowness was largely eliminated.

Wrubleski testified the "ID has voted" complaints were most likely due to students’ ID numbers being known by other individuals. Of the 36 other complaints, he said the errors were specific to problem times and there was nothing "preventing these individuals from voting at another time."

SU Returning Officer Mike Pal was called as the petitioners’ second witness. He described his duties supervising Deputy Returning Officers at the polling stations across campus. Pal testified that he was unable to vote because a vote had already been registered with his ID. Two other ROs also reported being denied a vote.

"This election system requires a technical perspective I am not able to evaluate," said Majumdar, the petitioner’s final witness. "I do believe the election was administered fairly."

The SU has until Mon., Mar. 29, to submit their application for appeal.

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