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BU IT fixes glitches in SG voting system

A glitch in the online voting system for the Spring 2014 Boston University Student Government Executive Board Elections prevented an unidentifiable number of students from casting their votes until the issue was resolved on Wednesday afternoon, leaving members of both competing SG slates concerned about losing student participation in the process.

The error, which has affected voters since the elections opened on Monday at noon, incorrectly notified full-time students in compliance with voting requirements that they were ineligible to vote.

“It didn’t have to do with all seniors, or all freshmen, or a certain school, it seemed to be a random assortment of people,” said Student Elections Commission Chairwoman Lauren LaVelle. “The SEC has determined that both slates were equally disadvantaged for those 48 hours.”

BU Information Services & Technology officials coded the program using data from January, a time when not all students were eligible to vote due to various circumstances, such as failing to update contact information or complete the Massachusetts Motor Vehicle Law Acknowledgement via the Student Link, LaVelle said.

Though the error message contained the SEC’s email address, several affected students incorrectly believed they could not participate in the elections, members of both SG slates said.

“That’s what honestly scared me,” said BU’s Push to Start presidential candidate Richa Kaul. “People weren’t aware that it was an IT glitch.”

Alexander Golob, TrueBU’s presidential candidate, said his slate did not have access to the demographics of students who were unable to vote.

“I don’t honestly know what the effects will be,” said Golob, a College of Fine Arts  sophomore. “That being said, it is a form of voter suppression.”

The SEC and IT receive votes anonymously, leaving them unable to determine who was affected by the error or if they have attempted to recast their votes since the issue was resolved. In turn, they have no way of notifying each student who was accidentally prohibited from casting a vote, LaVelle said.

Both slates said voters informed them of the issue almost immediately after voting opened Monday.

“We’re all very concerned,” said Kaul, a CAS sophomore. “We got an overwhelming number of people just from our personal network, so what is to be said for how many votes are going to go unmarked?”

Lavelle, a School of Management senior, said when the SEC established a voting booth at which students could vote in-person, approximately a quarter of those who attended reported receiving the faulty error message.

“We have no idea who those people are to reach out to them,” she said. “I would hope that just by word of mouth or in our social media presence that people will become aware.”

Though both SG slates said they might support sending out a mass email to students informing them of the glitch or potentially extending voting deadlines, the SEC and IT may not have the ability to do so, LaVelle said.

The SEC and both slates said they hope to prevent this issue from occurring in the future.

“There’s no way of knowing what part of the voter population that it affected, and if it affected us more than it affected TrueBU. Or, honestly, if this affected them more than us,” Kaul said. “I would be upset in both cases.”

Golob said though the glitch was unfortunate, the larger issue at hand was relatively small student participation in SG elections.

“We want to make sure that we have a high turnout,” he said. “Voting turnout was less than one-in-five people last year at BU, only 2,100 students out of 16,000. That’s a problem.”

Lavelle said as outgoing chairwoman of the SEC, she would strongly advise her successor to quickly form a relationship with IT, allowing the two organizations to prevent similar errors before they occur.

“It’s difficult on our side as students,” she said. “We’re feeding IT all our information, but we’re an in-between, because candidates give us information. They might be late, so we give it to IT late.”

Students may cast their votes for Spring 2014 SG Executive Board Elections online via the Student Link until Monday at noon.

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