Student Association elections reset due to errors in voting setup
For the third time in the past five years, the Student Association general election voting timeline is changing due to an error in the voting setup.
On Feb. 24, the day after the start of the voting period, the SA posted on their Facebook page informing voters that the election period would have to be rerun due to a “slight error in the Qualtrics voting system.”
According to Director of Elections McKinzie Chambers, the personalized email link to the ballot the NetID verification page were not correctly linked. This allowed students to type in another student’s NetID, thereby preventing the other student from voting when they attempted to open their ballot.
Chambers said she was alerted of the specifics of the issue by the Thresher on Friday afternoon and worked with Senior Survey Administrator Angela Thompson from the Office of Institutional Effectiveness to contact Qualtrics support. Chambers also said she received an email on Friday morning from a student who received an error after inputting their NetID. Chambers said the issue that required the election to be reset was only technological.
“I was assured by Qualtrics that the voting links and NetIDs matched up perfectly, so that no one could use another person’s NetID to vote from their link,” Chambers, a Sid Richardson College sophomore, said. “However, this was not the case, and it was addressed as soon as this was discovered.”
According to Thompson, the error was in the voting settings, which were copied from the previous year’s, not a technological Qualtrics error. Thompson said last year’s SA elections team had requested the NetID authenticator to be added for extra protection. She said that the same error occured in last year’s election but was not noticed and that she did not recommend the NetID page to the SA, as she had not used it in surveys run by the OIE in the past.
“I would never have suggested the [NetID] authenticator but that’s what they wanted at the time,” Thompson said.
The voting system on Qualtrics is run through the OIE, which oversees Qualtrics survey administration. According to Thompson, the director of elections decides all the information to be included in the ballot and has ultimate control over the final results.
“We don’t make any decisions, we simply run the ballot,” Thompson said.
The Thresher discovered an issue with the rerun ballots on Saturday, Feb. 24, that allowed students to cast a vote an unlimited number of times. By adjusting the personalized URL link, students could could receive unlimited ballots. However, because an option to “anonymize responses” was taken off for the rerun, these votes are easily distinguishable and could be deleted as they do not have a student name associated with them. Chambers said these votes would disregarded when counting.
“The anonymous votes are very easy to distinguish from the votes cast from personal links Qualtrics sent out,” Chambers said. “Since they are not direct votes cast from the personal links, we can disregard them as the votes do not come directly from eligible voters.”
According to Thompson, the option to anonymize responses was taken off because Qualtrics did not recommend it. Chambers said that even though the anonymize responses option was taken off for the rerun, she would not have access to personal voter information, as Thompson would scrub that data before passing it off to her.
The issue was fixed on Monday, Feb. 26. Thompson said she believes this error was unintentionally fixed after she called Qualtrics support due to other issues that were affecting Rice’s Qualtrics system. Thompson had not heard of the issue before being asked about it by the Thresher; however, Chamber said she had heard of this issue.
Unlike the past two instances that the election timeline has been changed due to errors, the issue was not a constitutional infraction that had to be adjudicated by University Court. In 2014, the election was redone due to an error that allowed alumni to vote in the election. Last year, part-time students were unable to vote, forcing the election period to be extended. This year, the Elections Committee decided on the new timeline themselves.
SA presidential candidates Morgan Gillis and Ariana Engles said they were disappointed that this year’s election once again had an error, which they said will lead to a decrease in voter turnout. Gillis said students have expressed frustrations to him about the error or do not know that voting is restarting.
“Personally, I wasn’t that surprised since there was a mistake last year with part-time students, but it’s kind of silly that they didn’t learn from their mistake,” Gillis said.
SA President Justin Onwenu, however, said the error was unavoidable and did not believe this would affect voter turnout.
“I would be surprised if we don’t break turnout records,” Onwenu said. “The SA marketing team has publicized very well and the reminder emails that are set push people to vote.”
SA Presidential Candidate Mahdi Fariss said that while this year’s mistake is less consequential than that of last year, it is frustrating to students.
“Very hard to say what effect [the rerun will] have, if any, aside from sparking a conversation about getting our act together,” Fariss said.
SA presidential candidate Rohan Palanki said he was concerned that the problems shifted students’ focus to the SA election process rather than the candidates’ platforms. Palanki suggested reforming the elections systems to include more training for the director of elections and a test election ran with a focus group.
“When things like a recount occur, the student body loses trust in the SA,” Palanki said. “In other words, if the SA can’t run an election properly, what can they do?”
Voting closes Wednesday, Feb. 28 at 8 p.m.
More from The Rice Thresher
Most courses will shift to in-person instruction on Jan. 24, according to an announcement from Provost Reginald DesRoches and Chair of the Crisis Management Advisory Committee Kevin Kirby. Restrictions on indoor dining and drinking may continue for two more weeks, Kirby and Dean of Undergraduates Bridget Gorman said.
Josephine Abercrombie, namesake for the Abercrombie Lab at Rice, passed away at the age of 95 on Jan. 5 at her home in Kentucky.
The search to fill three prominent vacancies in Rice administration is currently ongoing. General Counsel Richard Zansitis retired at the start of this semester after 21 years in his role. Vice Provost for Research Yousif Shamoo will also be stepping down this month, and Provost Reginald DesRoches will leave his position later this summer to begin his tenure as Rice’s eight president.