Guarding the Votes: Improving Campus Elections through Better Voter Confidentiality and Ballot Security

By McGilvray, Gregg | University Business, August 2008 | Go to article overview

Guarding the Votes: Improving Campus Elections through Better Voter Confidentiality and Ballot Security


McGilvray, Gregg, University Business


ONE DOES NOT HAVE TO look far in the news to witness the intense emotions released by academic elections relating to board of trustee matters--such as at Dartmouth. Just imagine throwing in uncertainty and doubt regarding confidentiality, fairness, and security concerns. A higher ed institution could wind up having far-reaching ramifications of "nuclear winter" scale to deal with. Many IHEs are woefully behind the times in the voting arena, particularly as it relates to security. The stakes here are high: hundreds of millions of dollars, not to mention the power and influence that is up for grabs.

Obviously, confidentiality and security are paramount in every election, public or private. When conducting a college or university voting project, it is crucial to authenticate voters' identification. Equally important is ensuring the voter's identity and actual vote selection are separated in a manner that prevents him or her from being "rejoined."

Neither the election host nor a third party must be able to determine how a voter votes. Without adequate security measures, such as firewalls, an election's integrity can be compromised by a hacker who alters votes. It's also imperative that one qualified voter equals one vote. No pets or dead people or other abuses can be tolerated in this process.

IHEs, whose overriding mission is to teach, are, with few exceptions, in the dark ages with their own boards' nomination, election, and voting processes. Institutions that should be a model for democratic principles, in fact, often have no voting process at all, let alone voter security and safeguards.

Indeed, in a recent independent survey of 150 larger and more prestigious U.S. academic institutions, less than 15 percent had voter security safeguards in place. The majority did not have formal democratic nominations, contested elections, or term limits in place for their boards. Many boards simply nominate trustees, make rules, and vote on these matters among themselves. Frankly, this situation is more indicative of a rubber stamp dictatorship or the Politburo than what one would expect to find in academia!

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I understand the challenges institutions face: a shortage of qualified, motivated talent to serve as trustees, limited financial resources and staffing, and IT-related issues. But a healthy, vibrant academic environment with active alumni participation must have open nomination processes, elections, term limits, and sophisticated voter security in place. …

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