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.