Online voting at Haverford
By biconews On 8 Feb, 2000 At 05:00 AM | Categorized As Archives | With 0 Comments

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“Last week we experienced the highest voter log-on in the history of bi-co elections.”

Although this line sounds like a futuristic phrase transported from the next decade, it could become a realistic statement given the recent elections at Haverford. Last week, Fords participated in the first online election in the bi-co, selecting members of the Students’ Council Executive Board in cyberspace.

The Internet vote replaced the paper ballot system that produced fraudulent election results last spring, when defective ballots pulled from the mailroom recycling bin were used to stuff the ballot box. This time, such paper controversies were avoided by having students cast votes only online, where they entered their network user name and password.

While deterring voter fraud the College has also expanded the reach of student elections, as Fords can now vote from their personal computers and from computer labs across campus rather than just in the Dining Center or the Campus Center. It is simple to state that the general element of convenience encouraged the impressive 66 percent voter turnout.

It is also possible that an element of novelty inspired such a number. This possibility necessitates that we pause and consider how online voting affects political and social participation in the bi-co community. We cannot assume that it is online voting alone that encouraged a record number of Haverford students to engage in the elections. At Bryn Mawr 45 percent of the student body turned out for the SGA election this fall, and last spring, almost 60 percent stopped at the voting table in the elections for SGA officers. Both relied on student initiative to visit the campus center.

At BMC’s campus center, students have the option of hearing candidate speeches on the Sunday preceding the mid-week election, as well as the option of perusing candidate statements posted near the campus center entrance. In other words, the environment surrounding the paper election at Bryn Mawr encourages voter participation. At Haverford, it is conceivable that online voting could encourage greater numbers of students to vote but diminish the overall level of student participation in the selection of student officers. The statistical jump in Haverford’s voter turnout, from about 40 percent to 66 percent, reflects the fact that more students selected candidate names for the positions on the Executive Council. It does not necessarily mirror a deepened concern for government.

In order to engender not just an electoral convenience, but rather real dialogue on candidates and campus issues, we need a forum that complements our electronic voting as it exists at Haverford or could come to exist at Bryn Mawr. This means having comment boards, candidate statements and general student discussion online.

This is not to advocate that traditional forms of debate should disappear from campus life. Basic human interaction is irreplaceable. Nonetheless, students who miss those events should not be left in the dark. To have such means of acquainting ourselves with the candidates equals a chance to make an informed choice. Regardless of whether the vote occurs at the campus center or on our computer, we cannot vote in a vacuum. On the voting website we need much more than just a virtual voting booth. We need to create and sustain an actual place for determining who would best guide our student governments.

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