Friday, November 16

Ballot, online voting have pros, cons


Students will have to wait till next year to learn fate of complex issue

Thomas Soteros-Mcnamara Soteros-McNamara still
haven’t heard from Peter Blackman. Send your pithy comments to
[email protected]

Like a renegade pop-up ad on America Online, online voting has
injected itself once again onto the upcoming undergraduate ballot.
The measure is weakened by the fact that it allows students to
either choose between an online or paper format or for the
electorate to use both.


The original proposal, submitted by general representative David
Dahle, was heavily modified after bi-partisan support emerged at
the council table, and the measure to place the issue on the ballot
passed.

In the 1999 USAC election, 59 percent of students voted to keep
voting via a system of paper ballots on campus. With the growing
use of online campus services, it appears the time has come to poll
the students on this matter once again.

No one, not even those members on the council against the
measure last Tuesday, dislikes the idea of enfranchising more
people. Instead, common fears about security and vote-tampering
generally dominate discussion.

In late 2000, the council had no option but to replace
academically disqualified external vice president Portia Pedro
using an online vote through MyUCLA. Then-internal vice president
Elias Encisco declared that campus organizations might hold
“election parties” wherein the admission to an event
would be consenting to vote at the location for a particular
candidate of the organizer’s choice. This problem was
specifically considered with respect to fraternities.

This sort of latent mistrust between most members of
USAC’s dominant Student Empowerment! (formerly Praxis) slate
and the Greek system underscores just how contentious online voting
really is. There is plenty of reason to reject using one online
method or another due to security concerns, but it is much less
logical to resist online polling altogether. Online voting provides
the potential for vastly higher turnout with minimal additional
cost.

Using polling stations as we do now is not without its problems,
either. In 1988, a near riot ensued when members of the
“Third World Coalition” slate protested the
disqualification of their presidential candidate, Lloyd Monserratt.
After a rally in Meyerhoff Park, TWC marched to the Westwood plaza
polling place intent on ripping up their ballots in disgust.
Instead, a fight broke out for the ballot box itself. Blows were
exchanged, and the mob occupied Murphy, kicking a hole into a wall,
only to retreat to Campbell Hall to end the day’s events.
There are threats concerning the legitimacy of our current election
procedures, but these are not the threats that the recent
leaderships seem to expect. The armed guards that oversaw the
voting booths during this incident hardly compare with the exchange
of a few beers for votes at a fraternity house.

Given that both paper or online form are imperfect, it is hard
to deny the utility of using an online poll in some form or
another. For students abroad or unable to attend campus, the online
format could be used as a sort of absentee voter system, which is
not available now.

The cost of a regular paper ballot election hovers near $25,000,
whereas the online poll done in 2000 cost around $150, although
there were fewer candidates in that election. Even if paper voting
was not abolished, the cost of conducting an online poll would be
an insignificant addition while helping enfranchise more students
to participate in government.

Of course, election board chairman Matthew Kaczermak pointed out
at last Tuesday’s meeting that, currently, it is impossible
to conduct a simultaneous online-paper vote. Kaczermak neglected to
mention what technological barriers prevent implementation of a
dual-process election. Even student government members are left to
ponder the scale of the problem.

There is no doubt that election reform has been underfunded for
years, but the final word will not be had by 312 Kerckhoff Hall.
Instead, as the measure is an “advisory vote,” it will
be up to next year’s council to decide. Depending on the
officers that compose that council and their predilections, they
will ultimately determine if you will get to vote while downloading
files with KaaZa.

Nevertheless, you can expect the issue to be buried and
forgotten unless students indicate their preference for online
polls. Should we dismiss the matter as quickly as a pop-up,
however, we will have to recognize that the students who come after
us will pay the price.

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