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Campus voting system lacks usability

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | APRIL 20, 2009 7:30 AM

Voting started early this morning for this year’s UI Student Government election — hopefully.

But that’s the same thing they told us last week, when voting was originally slated to begin. But then a technical glitch downed the online system used for campus voting, pushing back the election until this week.

Most unfortunate, the voting delay is just the latest example of why the system used for UISG voting is not conducive for voting.

Some students attempted to log on to Votenet — the online service UISG pays to use for voting — on April 13, only to find the system was unavailable. The Student Elections Board was forced to delay the election for a week, but student government will likely still be responsible for the $5,000 Votenet charges for its services.

We understand that — even with a pricey service — technical malfunctions are sometimes unavoidable. But why are we spending $5,000 to outsource voting in the first place? Even when the system is in working order, it’s inconvenient and user-unfriendly.

The major problem here is even though UISG ballots are cast online, they require students to go out of their way to vote. Sure, it’s only five clicks, but there are still far more convenient means of conducting the election. For students as apathetic as the ones on this campus, if you don’t put something right in front of them, they won’t seek it out.

A more convenient system would involve paper ballots and voting booths in high-traffic hubs around campus. Ballots could be cast, for instance, in dorm lobbies, on the Pentacrest, or on the T. Anne Cleary Walkway. The means to count those votes — Scantron machines — are already available on campus. The only additional requirements would be a dozen tables and some volunteers to check students’ IDs as they cast their ballots. Putting voting right in front of students would undoubtedly yield better results than making students go out of their way to vote.

But even if student government is married to casting votes online, a comparable voting system could undoubtedly be designed by our very own computer-science students. Ryan Kopf, a UISG presidential contender and UI computer-science student, noted that commissioning students to design a voting system would require initial cost, but no annual fee. It’s unlikely that monitoring and maintaining the system would cost $5,000.

And not only would a home-grown solution likely be cheaper, it would help keep student fees in the UI community and would be a learning experience for students here. Spending less and keeping dollars local? A win-win, for sure.

Of course, this is all part of a bigger problem: extreme apathy on campus. It’s unfortunate that in order to attract voters, UISG should have to make polling places so accessible. We get the feeling that only those directly involved with campaigns care about the outcome. Ideally, students will take the initiative to vote, regardless of the means through which they cast that vote. But we’re realistic; we know most people don’t care enough to inconvenience themselves over a vote. So it should be the goal of our student government to make voting painfully accessible.


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