Technical Problems Persist with SGA Voting Procedure

By: Jennifer Clark

INDIANA– For the second year in a row, electronic voting in IUP student-government elections suffered a technical glitch.

Balloting was scheduled to begin at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday, April 11, and end Thursday, April 12, at 11:59 p.m. But election officials said Wednesday morning that an unexplained technical error delayed the start of balloting until 9 a.m. The nine-hour delay prompted the officials to extend the voting period until 9 a.m. Friday, April 13, said Brandon Marree, chairman of the Student Government Association elections committee.

“The technical error itself was a simple and honest mistake made by the person who entered the data into the computer,” Marree said in an April 16 email. “Again, an honest and simple mistake that anybody can make.”

Marree declined to elaborate.

Electronic voting procedures were faulted following April 2006 SGA elections. Write-in ballots were miscounted and undercounted, requiring unprecedentedly low vote totals to be revised and prompting SGA President-elect Patrick Barnacle (senior, economics) to pledge reform.

But when a Barnacle-proposed voting-procedure reform came before SGA members on March 5, they decided to stick with online voting for the April 11-12 elections.

In a Feb. 12 interview in his office in the Hadley Union Building, Barnacle said he wanted to return to paper-ballot elections in an effort to boost low student-voter turnout.

But Barnacle said IUP administrator and former SGA advisor Terry Appolonia opposed the voting-change proposal. SGA members then decided to continue with electronic voting, a decision announced by Barnacle during the March 5 SGA meeting in the Susquehanna Room in the HUB.

Low voter turnout distinguishes IUP from peer institutions in the State System of Higher Education. In 2006, IUP student votes totaled 161, about 1 percent of the university’s 14,000 enrollment.

In 2007, student votes totaled 209, election officials reported. Craig Faish and Brendan Markham ran unopposed for president and vice president, respectively. The ticket received 192 votes. Write-in candidate Andrea Trdina (communications media) received 17 votes.

Slippery Rock University and California University, two other western-Pennsylvania campuses in the SSHE system, record significantly higher rates of student voting participation.

In 2006 student-government elections at Slippery Rock, 1,500 of the school’s 8,500 students cast ballots, a voting-participation rate of 17 percent, Ashley Clark (senior, public relations), chairwoman of SRU’s Election Commission, said in a March 1 email. SRU elections are conducted using paper ballots, Clark added.

Cal U conducts student government elections online, student government Vice President Sara Ponteous said in a March 5 phone interview. In 2006, more than 1,000 of the school’s 5,400 students cast ballots in student-government elections, a participation rate of 18 percent, Ponteous said.

Despite IUP SGA members’ March 5 rejection of Barnacle’s voting reform proposal, some members volunteered their personal notebook computers to be used in the April 11-12 student-government election balloting, Marree said in a March 28 phone interview.

SGA members Barnacle, Vanessa Varacalli (senior, psychology) and Jessica Carson (junior, anthropology/sociology) took turns standing by their laptops in Stapleton Library on April 12, Barnacle said. A sign publicized the election service provided by the volunteers.

The physical presence of voluntary SGA election poll workers was aimed at students who distrust electronic voting, who say they are too busy to vote or who don’t know where to vote.

“It’s not that I didn’t want to vote, I just honestly have no time to vote,” said Morris Reese (junior, mass communications) in a post-election interview in the Oak Grove. “I guess it didn’t help that I had no idea where to vote.”

Barnacle said the repeated technical problems may persuade next year’s SGA members to switch back to paper ballot voting for the 2008 elections.

SGA President-elect Craig Faish (senior, nursing) agreed in an April 24 news conference in Davis Hall that voting procedure will be revisited by incoming SGA members.

“I’m sure that is an issue that will be brought up,” Faish said.

 -Karlee Smith contributed to this story.

 

Sidebar:

Article VII of the IUP Student Government Bylaws provides guidelines for SGA elections. Section 2 addresses voting places:

 

Sidebar: Polling locations

Polling locations shall be recommended by the Elections Committee and approved by the Executive Committee.

 

Sidebar: IUP student-voting participation

Year       Votes cast              Enrollment           Voter Turnout (%)
(Indiana campus)
2006           104                        13,641                               .8

2005           268                        13,614                              1.9

2004           425                        13,487                              3.2

2003           146                        13,253                                1.1

2002           540                        13,094                               4.1

2000           318                        13,082                               2.4

Source: Terry Appolonia, IUP Office of Student Affairs; IUP Trend book

-Compiled by Karlee Smith

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