Seniors unable to vote in SGI election

Talia Tirella, News Editor

The student who lost the race to become Student Government Inc. president by only 90 votes says the election was clouded by confusion at the voting tables that left many upperclassmen unable to cast their ballots.

Andy Chang, a junior finance student, said some juniors, all seniors and all fourth and fifth year pharmacy students were not able to cast their ballots because of a technical glitch in the electronic voting program used by SGI.

Chang said that he was not able to vote either.

“I think there was very poor oversight over this process, and it’s ok to make mistakes,” Chang said, “but the real problem here is they did not make any effort to amend it or resolve the problem.”

The senior-level students were not able to vote this year because of the way the online ballot was set up. Those with an amount of credits equal to or more than a senior were denied access to the ballot, a procedure based on the idea that seniors would not be returning to campus the following year, according to Chang, who expressed ideological disagreement. In previous years, seniors have been able to vote.

Students, as well as those involved in SGI, realized the mistake when voting started last Thursday. Chang, as well as Caroline Zottl, the current SGI vice president, became aware of the problem after it became obvious that students were not able to access the online ballot.

Zottl spoke with the rest of the SGI e-board and they “all remembered that seniors had always been allowed to vote as well.” Zottl then went to the administrator and member of the Board of Directors of SGI who oversees elections, who told her that seniors were not allowed to vote.

Zottl also went to Dean of Students Dr. Daniel Trujillo, who “clarified that seniors should be able to vote, as they have in the past years,” she said.

Zottl said that multiple people, including herself, spoke to administrators in charge of the online voting platform about fixing the situation, but no change was made before voting ended Friday afternoon.

Zottl said the confusion started when the Votenet online ballot was set up incorrectly.

“The graduate assistant in charge of Votenet was quite unfortunately mixed up on the issue,” Zottl said. “He mentioned to Allison [Klasson], our elections chair, that seniors were not allowed to vote.”

James Salnave, Associate Dean of Student Development, was the administrator in charge of handling the SGI elections, according to Chang.

Chang said he spoke with Salnave Thursday morning, the first day of voting, around 10 a.m. about a mistake on the online ballot. One of Chang’s ticket members’ names was spelled incorrectly and he wanted to have the mistake fixed. Chang said it took 5 hours to fix the misspelled name.

“The problem is, it was all covered up from then on,” Chang said.

When contacted for comment, Salnave referred questions to Trujillo, who explained in an email that the parameters for voter eligibility were determined when SGI provided the criteria to Votenet. These parameters were used last year as well, according to Trujillo.

Trujillo also said that Salnave informed Chang that no changes could be made to the system, because Votenet is an outside provider.

Trujillo said given the notice so close to the polling dates last week, there was not enough time to change the voting criteria.

“I think there was very poor oversight over this process and it’s ok to make mistakes,” Chang said, “but the real problem here is they did not make any effort to amend it or resolve the problem.”

In order to try to remedy the issue, paper ballots were issued in the D’Angelo Center, Change said. But he said there was no announcement that the paper ballots were available, and students only found out about the paper option if they went to vote in person in DAC.

Chang said this ended up not being an ideal solution because many students had class, internships or work and “couldn’t afford to wait an hour to fill out a paper ballot.”

“I don’t even know where to begin how to measure how many disenfranchised voters there are,” Chang said.

Senior Patrick Casey, a mathematics major, said he was disappointed when he tried to vote but couldn’t.

“It’s important that we have a say because we have seen what works well and what doesn’t work well, and I think we could have made a really good and educated decision,” Casey said.

In the past years, SGI has used an electronic voting system to facilitate the voting process for students. This year, the graduate assistant that helped to set up the Votenet system was confused over whether or not seniors could vote, according to Zottl.

Zottl said that seniors have always been able to vote in SGI elections, and this year should have been no exception.

However, the handbook that outlines the voting election rules does not include who is allowed to vote and who is not, according to Zottl.

Chang discussed the problems with the online voting system and said that those who could not vote were not able to because of the human error in setting up the voting process.

According to Chang, Student Affairs did not inform senior Allison Klasson, the Elections Committee Chair, of any sort of error with the online ballot. Klasson said that she was told that was how the system had been set up in previous years.

Chang said that the mix-up was not Klasson’s fault, as she was not allowed to see the ballot and she said she had been told that everything was handled and had been “quadruple checked.”

Others involved, like Salnave, knew about the mistake but Chang said that nothing was done to fix it.

“I think if someone is really committed to students and the voting rights of students who pay the same fee as all undergrads and who will be here next year, they deserve to have the right to vote,” Chang said. “There was no attention paid to that and it was totally disregarded.”

Chang said he discussed the mistakes with Salnave, who responded by saying it was too late to make any changes. Chang felt that the elections process should have been stopped so the mistake could have been fixed.

“To me, what was more important was that we did it properly. I said look, if we have to postpone the results I think we should do that, even if it takes a week, 5 business days, you need to make sure it’s done right, not done hastily and not just for the sake of doing it, and the response was no.”

Going forward, Chang hopes there will be reform. Winning presidential candidate Ridge McKnight said “​I am not sure where the miscommunication occurred, however, my focus is making sure the same voting mishap doesn’t occur in next year’s elections.”

Chang is concerned that this mistake will lead to distrust throughout the University community in the future and possibly lead to a lower turnout during SGI elections.

“It indicates a much more concerning mindset when these things are approached. There really was not a fair process nor was there much effort to correct it,” Chang said.