Tue 20 Mar 2018
- The award-winning student news website of Imperial College

Know something you shouldn't? Tell us, using our quick, 100% anonymous tip-off form!

Live! - Opinion

This article is an opinion piece and should be taken as such. It is highly likely to be biased, but either the article itself or the ensuing discussion will probably be entertaining. Live! takes no editorial line on opinion pieces.

More on-line voting problems for ULU

Mar 14 2004 13:51
Neil Madhvani
It would appear as though the recent ICU sabb elections will not be the only ones to suffer from 'technical' problems caused by ULU's on-line voting system.
Okay, Monkey didn't actually feature as part of the error, but we thought he might brighten up the otherwise geeky error message.

Your correspondent was rather disappointed to find that he was unable to cast his vote in the University of London Union sabbatical elections last night and was instead presented with a rather unfriendly error message when trying to visit the ULU on-line voting website.

This is, somewhat disturbingly, not the first time that a sabbatical election has been hampered by ULU's custom-built electronic voting system, that was developed at a cost of around £60,000 about 3 years ago. The same system was used only a few weeks ago by Imperial College Union for our own sabbatical elections as an alternative to the traditional system of paper balloting. It was believed that the use of electronic voting would make the process much quicker, cheaper and more efficient, and perhaps even bring about an increase in electoral turnout.

Problems with the ICU elections started when a significant number of students complained that they hadn't received their passwords via e-mail and were therefore unable to access the system. Whilst the ULU elections helpline staff worked to resolve these problems as quickly as they could, a great deal of inconvenience had already been caused. Whilst your correspondent doesn't wish to appear cynical, one cannot but help thinking that a certain proportion of those who faced initial problems didn't end up exercising their democratic rights, due to becoming frustrated by not being able to access the system the first time round.

Additional problems ensued during the time that the election was open, including a short system outage. There was however much more cause for concern once voting had closed, when the Elections Committee experienced a series of glitches that led them to question the accuracy of the way in which the votes were being counted by the system. The Committee proposed that the entire election be set aside and re-balloted on paper, however ICU Council nevertheless expressed faith in ULU's on-line voting system and decreed that that the software should be considered to be trustworthy. The results were therefore finally announced, bringing the rather long and controversial process to an end.

It is interesting to note that faculty association elections such as the ones held by City & Guilds College Union that took place a few days ago decided to proceed with paper balloting rather than to use the electronic system. But then again, after all the recent embroilment that has been caused by electronic voting, one wonders whether we'll see a return to paper voting for next year's ICU elections. Unless of course Imperial College Union were to decide to deploy its own electronic voting system - how about getting a bunch of Computing/ISE students together and paying them to knock a properly tested one up over the Summer? Surely that wouldn't cost £60,000...

Candidates in the ULU elections will be on campus for a hustings at Imperial College on Tuesday evening in the Union Dining Hall.

Email this Article | Share on Facebook | Print this Article

Discussion about “More on-line voting problems for ULU”

The comments below are unmoderated submissions by Live! readers. The Editor accepts no liability for their content, nor for any offence caused by them. Any complaints should be directed to the Editor.
1. Seb   
Mar 14 2004 23:51

Never got a password...

Mar 15 2004 01:18

?60,000 for that heap of sh** voting system? Surely you mean 60,000 pence?

Why don't they realise after three failures that it jush dun wark? Let's get some of our computing people do develop some decent software or just stick with the paper ballot.

Which part of that software cost ?60,000 to develop?

Was it the user-friendly interface? The counting system? Or the 12-month holiday in the caribbean for a bunch of fraudulent UCL computing graduates who pulled a fast one on ULU?

Mar 15 2004 13:32

It's always fun to see what one has unleashed :-)

Mar 15 2004 16:43

I think I'm right in saying that the cost of developing the e-voting system was met either by Senate House or by some other external body and not actually by ULU, though I stand to be corrected!

Just a bit of background as to why e-voting was chosen - ULU Council was informed by the then Vice-Chancellor (Graham Zellick) that appointment to major union offices must be by a secret ballot in which all members of ULU can vote (i.e. invoking Part II of the Education Act 1994).

ULU Council felt that holding a paper ballot was not be feasible and so ULU looked into doing it all online.

Before online voting, ULU Council, which is made up of representatives from each of the College Union's in UL (so about 60 people) voted for all of ULU's sabbaticals and union officers.

Mar 15 2004 17:36

There's a ULU election going on?! So where do we get our passwords?

Mar 15 2004 17:56

Indeed, Rob, this dates back to 1999. That makes it over five years ago that I stuck my oar in. Blimey, I am getting old! :-)

Mar 15 2004 21:22

As a candidate in the elections, I'd agree with some of the comments posted. I for example got sent 2 passwords for my 1 card whilst other people I know received no passwords for their cards. I think that the Education Act requires all students to be able to vote, the current system does not allow this. Apart from ICU members, there are c.7000 cards in circulation, compared to over 100,000 students. It is clear, therefore, that it is a system that can never allow all students to vote.

I'd recommend that ULU investigates a better way to hold cross campus elections.


Ben Cohen for ULU President

Mar 15 2004 22:20

Ben, Hmmm... yeah nice electioneering there - there is a blindingly obvious way of putting it though:

"It jush dun wark."

We've just had elections were the system failed. What are you going to do about evoting? Scrap it? We aren't interested in 'ULU will look into it'. Duh!!

Mar 15 2004 23:15

By "ULU investigate..." I mean exactly that. That ULU must investigate the problems and possible solutions- that's my advice if I don't win.

If I do, here are my own personal views:-

1) ULU cards should be scrapped. If they can't be then they should not require photos and be valid for the length of a course

2) Voting may take place by paper or electronically, with the possibility of electronic 'booths' at colleges with touch screen ballot papers

I would plan that an enquiry be set-up into the recent elections, drawing on 2003-4, ICU's elections and the 2004-5 elections. I would like to see some outside experts contributing ideas to the enquiry.

Mar 15 2004 23:40

Agreed - a dual paper/electronic voting system will get a better turnout. It'll also give 'the experts' a bit of time to sort out the glitches.

Mar 16 2004 08:59

By less unimpressed, I assume that you may be tempted to vote! Hope to hear your points & questions at hustings tonight at ICU.


Ben Cohen for ULU President

Mar 16 2004 09:16

It would be interesting to know how compatible each College ID card is with using a unique ten digit for every student in UL and seeing how this could translate in to an e-voting system.

Paper balloting in future should not be ruled out (I shall do a back-of-the-envelope costing and see what turns up there).

Mar 16 2004 10:01

Assuming one ballot box per site (so including places like Wye, medical sites etc), two ballot box staff at standard "union rates" and two days of 8 hour voting - looking at about ?3k to ?4k depending on turnout for a paper ballot.

This does not include using agency staff where wages would double at least, hire of ballot boxes, printing separate ballots for each post or the hire of counting staff and travel costs.

So worst case scenario could mean a central cost to ULU of around ?15k per election using those criteria, I reckon.

That's just rough anyway...

Mar 16 2004 10:53

E-voting is the future - but the technical glitches HAVE to be ironed out.

Imagine if you go to a paper ballot voting station, asked the staff for a ballot paper and they said, "You not allowed to vote, error!.. error! Call my superiors on this number."

This is what is happening with evoting and it just won't do. It puts people off voting for life. This is a serious problem. Those incompetant software programmers who got paid ?60,000 for this system must be held responsible and criminal charges should be brought against them. This is an absolute disgrace.

Mar 17 2004 08:51

Were the calculations based on having one "site" for Bloomsbury, i.e. ULU itself and only placing ballot boxes at locations more than say 0.5-1 mile from ULU?

In my view an electronic ballot box at physical locations may be more worthwhile. You scan your college ID card in with some sort of barcode thing connected to a PC, which recognises the college ID number and then you vote with a touch screen or mouse. I'm sure that the existing system could be adapted to enable this. Any duplicate votes would be wiped out due to depuing the ID numbers.



Vote Ben Cohen for President

16. sporty   
Mar 17 2004 09:12

I'm all for e-voting, but there are certainly issues. Not ones that should stand in the way of marginally competant programmers (at least on this scale - ask Bruce Schneier what he thinks about wide scale e-voting).

Using college ID numbers can't work easily; not all CIDs are student ones (some are staff), and college are reluctant to provide information linked to CIDs outside of their own network due to data protection issues.

As I said before, when students register as a Union member, they should have to provide an electronic point of contact, and that point of contact should be tested before a card is issued (ie. an email with a reference number sent to it, the reference number is needed to get your union card). That way, you can centralise all union electronic services to have a single login, and the major problem with ULUs system (passwords not being emailed to people due to broken / illegible email addresses on application forms) is removed.

Mar 18 2004 00:44

I must say I wasn't around when e-voting was introduced but what involvement if any did IC students play? I've personally found the most useful ideas and contributions to have come from IC students and this board! I'd hope to include you all in an enquiry etc (if I win of course!)

Best wishes


Vote Ben Cohen

Mar 18 2004 10:27

Yes, sporty, electronic registration is being looked at for next year. None of these problems are insurmountable (as has been correctly identified the accuracy of data input is the biggest issue) but they have to be done step by step. The first step was to merge the union cards - which has given us a bigger say in helping drive the future of the process. ULU was never in a position to collect registration details electronically - it can only do so by developing a solution for each College.

Mar 19 2004 12:06

I see the results aren't up yet.

Not surprised after the farce that was the announcement of the results...

Mar 19 2004 12:20

I didn't make it to the results but from what Josh (Men's Officer) told me, there were only around 300 votes. I'm really disappointed, not just that I didn't win but also the low turnout considering how hard we all worked.

Matt was elected by 0.1% of the total student population. I hope that he can do something in his year to increase the turnout, if not can we really justify the union or its elections at all?

Best wishes


Mar 19 2004 12:58

sore loser...

Mar 19 2004 13:55

not at all... I'm pleased for Matt, he's a nice guy. I've enjoyed the whole thing and learnt a lot and contributed a bit (I hope) to the future of ULU.

There really is no bitterness


Closed This discussion is closed.

Please contact the Live! Editor if you would like this discussion topic re-opened.


Also In Random Rant

  1. Another wasted opportunity??
    05 Mar 04 | Random Rant
  2. The Bureaucrats of NI
    01 Mar 04 | Random Rant
  3. Union cards for all?
    03 Dec 03 | Random Rant

Live! Poll

How frequently would you like to see a CGCU magazine being published