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Brown students develop new system for elections

By Jennifer Shen     2/7/13 6:00pm


Brown College members enjoyed the convenience of voting online this year thanks to the work of Brown juniors Waseem Ahmad and Andrew Capshaw. 

The online voting platform, named Rice Elections, debuted Jan. 29 when it was used for Brown's first round of elections. Ahmad said all of Brown's elections used Rice Elections this year.

Ahmad said Brown Elections Committee Head Julian Cooper first approached Ahmad last fall about building a new online voting platform. Cooper, a junior, started searching for a new solution to elections after Brown had to hold multiple run-offs due to inaccuracy in the results.

"There was an inconsistency of number of ballots cast and number of people signed to have voted," Ahmad said. "Online voting alleviates this problem."

Ahmad started building Rice Elections at the beginning of winter break and asked Capshaw to join him when Ahmad realized he was not making enough progress. Rice Elections is built with CoffeeScript, Google App Engine and Python.

Capshaw said Rice Election allows its users to log in with their NetIDs through Rice's Central Authentication Service, the same service used to log onto OWL-Space. The ballots are kept anonymous.

Currently, the person administering an election would manage the election's eligible voters by giving the application a list of NetIDs. Capshaw said he and Ahmad are working on simplifying the election management by restricting voter eligibility by class or college.

Ahmad said he hopes to make Rice Elections available campuswide. Cooper introduced the application to other college election committee members via email, and Ahmad said he plans to speak to Student Association President Sanjula Jain.

McMurtry College is already using Rice Elections to facilitate their upcoming elections, and Habitat for Humanity and Sid Richardson College, among others, have also expressed interest, according to Ahmad.

Some other colleges, such as Hanszen college, are also switching to voting online via OWL-Space.

Hanszen college senior and Senior Class Justice Sergio Ruiz, who organized the elections for Hanszen this year, said switching to OWL-Space resulted in a greater voter turnout. The results were anonymous and automatically tallied by OWL-Space. Ruiz said he was informed about Rice Elections and liked the idea.

"I would have liked to try it out this year, but unfortunately it was too late to get used to it and apply it," Ruiz said. "I'll probably recommend [it to] next year's Junior Class Justice, since they will be in charge of elections."

Brown junior Nathan Alison said he enjoyed using Rice Elections because it enabled him to cast his vote online at a more flexible time.

"It's more convenient and saves paper," Alison said.

Brown senior Ruby Yeh said the application is more efficient and easy to use, but it is less visible to students than voting on paper.

"Some people don't check their Rice emails that often, and so they missed out on voting because usually there is a table in the commons to attract voters," Yeh said.

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