Electronic voting considered for student election process

Elections for student leaders may be more accessible to students next year.

A change to online voting for Undergraduate Student Government positions and the SIUC student trustee is under consideration by student election officials, Bethany Wendler, coordinater for student involvement and leadership development, said. Although the change was being considered before this year, she said, the shift may help eliminate an issue some students had involving the voting locations during this year’s election.

Wendler said her office is looking at different processes for electronic voting.

“At this point, I feel it is a necessary step,” she said. “It will be a little bit more accessible to everybody.”

Wendler said there was a slightly larger number of votes this year than last, but it still is a small percentage of the student population. By moving to an online process, she said, student involvement might increase.

She said some issues with a paper ballot would be eliminated by an online process. There could be problems with online voting such as ensuring students are registered with the system used to vote or making sure candidates aren’t going directly to students with a laptop to have them vote, she said.

This year, one problem some students had with the way the paper ballot election was held involved voting location.

Wendler said the election commission, which has members from USG and the Graduate and Professional Student Council, decided this year to change the voting locations to create fairness in the locations.

“Well, someone might say if we have one polling location here, we need to technically have a polling location everywhere, and logistically we just could not do that, so somebody was going to get shortchanged,” she said.

She said the Student Center and Recreation Center were chosen because they are accessible and not academically affiliated. If a student wanted to vote, she said, they could have planned to go to the voting location.

At the April 24 GPSC meeting, the group ratified the election of the new student trustee. Some members abstained from ratifying the election because of concerns over how the election was held.

“They just didn’t feel it was done in a way that allowed everyone to vote,” Pete Lucas, the new vice president of academic affairs of GPSC, said.

Lucas said there have been up to five voting locations for the election in the past, including a polling place at the law school.  Because there was no voting booth at the School of Law this year, he said some students were scrambling to get to a voting location.

“It was unfortunate, but at the end of the day, it was okay because it will change,” he said.

Geoffrey Grammer, a law student from Alton, said he thinks the elimination of some of the voting locations affected voter turnout. He said if paper balloting is continued next year, it might benefit the election commission to consider where the different student populations of SIUC are located. Law students, he said, don’t visit the Student Center often.

“I think you disenfranchise a lot of voters by making only two locations,” he said.

Outside of the voting locations, Grammer said he encountered other issues with the election, including the rules surrounding campaigning and the time in which candidates have to prepare for the election.

“It was very unorganized,” he said.

The problems Grammer said he noticed with the election could be eliminated by a full-time student position for an election commissioner, which some universities have.

“Other than that, I think the election was fair, and in the future I think they need to be better prepared,” he said.

Eric Wilber, GPSC member and former student trustee for the Eastern Illinois University Board of Trustees, said the election process at EIU went well while he was there.

The first year he was elected, he said more than 1,000 students voted. He said he received more votes than were cast in this year’s SIUC elections. Yet, it was less than 10 percent of the student body.

At EIU, he said, there were two locations, but the campus is more compact.

“As far as SIU goes, I think that the consolidation of voting locations depressed turnout,” he said.

Wilber said he thinks the move to online voting will be good for the elections. At EIU, he said, the switch was made and turnout was down the first year because of the change.

“But I think in terms of going to something that is accessible to everyone, that is a good thing,” he said.

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