Voting problems cause halt in Honor Council elections

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February 24, 2009

12:58 AM

College of William and Mary administrators postponed Monday’s referendum on possible changes to the Honor Code, along with the election of members to the Undergraduate Honor Council. A new election will be held Wednesday due to the technical problems.

“We apologize for the technical difficulties concerning today’s Honor Council Elections and Honor Code Revision,” the Honor Council said in a statement to students sent through Interim Vice-President for Student Affairs Ginger Ambler ’88 Ph.D. ’06. “The Honor Council is working with IT to investigate this matter further. A new vote will be held this Wednesday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.”

The message said errors in the ballot’s coding prevented some students from casting their votes and allowed individuals unauthorized access to the ballot itself.

From the opening of voting at 8 a.m., members of the Honor Council and the Student Assembly were flooded with complaints from students experiencing difficulties casting their ballots.

Honor Council Elections Committee Chairman Will Eaton ’09 said the initial problem was caused by transferring the ballot’s Word document to a web site.

“The text of the referendum was from Microsoft Word,” Eaton said. “We could view it while we were editing it, but when some people accessed it, the script actually expanded and covered the choices, and students weren’t able to vote.”

Another technical difficulty involved the web addresses that were e-mailed to students.

Students were supposed to receive individualized links to the web site featuring the ballot, but were instead sent a general link open to anyone with access to a College e-mail address.

SA Vice President Kristin Slawter ’09 said Monday’s result was disappointing, but that such malfunctions would not stop the election from ultimately being held.

“Today’s situation was just a technical difficulty,” Slawter said.

Opponents of the referendum have criticized the Honor Council’s use of the Opinio survey system over the traditional Student Information Network.

This is the first election conducted using Opinio. The previous system, SIN, also suffered from many technical problems.

According to Eaton, the new system has several advantages over SIN, like the ability to send reminder e-mails to students, track voting throughout the election, and quickly determine turnout. Monday’s problems were due to the transition from one system to the other.

“SIN is not being sufficiently supported,” Eaton said. “Only about two people know how to run the thing. Some problems came up in the fall referendum, and it had really bad turnout.”

Eaton said the new system and increased publicity drive could increase student turnout.

“With Opinio, we can send out reminder e-mails [and] individualized links,” Eaton said. “I’m definitely confident we can increase turnout, even with the problems.”

Honor Council members worked with the College’s Information Technology department to fix the system and make it more secure. For the next election, students will be asked to enter their user ID number and passwords for confirmation.

Slawter said Monday’s difficulties could even benefit the rescheduled election.

“If anything, it’s just given it more publicity, which is good,” Slawter said. “It could increase turnout, and you want as many students voting as possible.”

Additional questions arose when SA Sen. Steven Nelson ’10 said his Honor Council application had been denied by the Honor Council’s nominating committee.

“I applied with the knowledge I’d be rejected,” Nelson said. “I was rejected for an alcohol violation freshman year.”

Nelson said he also felt he may have been rejected for his past criticism of the Honor Council and his opposition to last fall’s Honor Code referendum.

The Honor Council’s bylaws stipulate that a candidate’s application can be denied for a “serious judicial violation,” along with several other reasons.

Nelson said he applied for the council last year, but was also denied. He said his alcohol violation was not mentioned.

“Last year, their rationale was that I turned my application in five to 10 minutes late,” Nelson said. “The election is free of an objective standard. [The alcohol violation] did not figure in last year.”

Dean of Students Patricia Volp was unavailable for immediate comment.

Slawter, the student representative to the nominating committee, declined to comment on Nelson’s allegations.

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