In this year’s Student Senate elections we used paper ballots for the first time in quite some years. The reception was generally positive with some complaints over paper usage. To address that concern, we will shred and recycle the ballots a short while after Senate has been seated. Perhaps the largest benefit to holding elections via paper ballot was the ability for the Senate Executive Board to conduct recounts. In races that were contested and exceedingly close, we recounted the votes to ensure that the original results were correct and without error. In fact, in nearly every race that was contested a recount was triggered by the elections guidelines drafted by Student Senate President Heather Kopec and myself.
While it is difficult to draw a definitive conclusion, using paper ballots appears to have increased the voter turnout. Whereas in past years 35 to 40 percent voter turnout would be considered good, this year we saw multiple districts seeing more than 50 percent of students voting. However, in districts where there are still openings or where everyone that ran was guaranteed a seat on Senate, turnout was much closer to the numbers seen in the past. This is an unsurprising conclusion—in the races where everyone was guaranteed a seat on Senate, there was nothing at stake and only one vote was needed for each candidate. I strongly encourage the members of the districts with open seats to run and to convince others to run. The more people that run, the more choices are given to you, and the more representative Senate can be as a whole.
While I would judge this term’s election to be successful and a step in the right direction, it was not without its hiccups. First, by staggering the printing of the ballots, from time to time we would run out. This occurred the most in the Sustainability Chair election, which caused some students to have to wait for ballots. If we use the paper ballot system in future elections, we will be able to use the numbers of voters from this cycle as a starting place for how many ballots to print up and print more as needed. Second, there was one instance of a candidate being placed in the incorrect district. This was solely my error, as I printed the ballots. We offered the candidate in question if they would like to have another election in their real district, but they declined. I apologize profusely for this error, and will use this regrettable experience in the drafting up of more concrete election guidelines in the future. Third, the election could have been more secretive. To my regret, we were unable to formulate a secret ballot that would not be susceptible to manipulation, multiple votes, or voting in the incorrect district. By having students write their names, ID numbers, signing their ballots, and giving them a ballot for their specific district, we were able to verify that students were not impersonating each other in order to vote multiple times for one candidate. Out of all of the ballots cast, only a handful needed to be discounted for either being incorrectly filled out, voting for more than the allotted amount of candidates, voting in the incorrect district, or voting multiple times.
This election cycle should be held up against others when we, the student body, discuss whether we should use paper ballots again or whether we should go back to an electronic voting system. This election had its successes and its failures, but by and large was a positive experience. I look forward to the discussion of the benefits and issues with using paper ballots and whether we should continue to use them for future elections.