Student Union Senate election met with voting issues and fraud allegations
By Sophia Maltese
Since the 2016 presidential election, our nation has been grappling with issues of election irregularities. Be it a national race or one at a small Jesuit university, political dissatisfaction has sprouted regarding the election process — namely, the possibility of interference and lack of security that could make the polls vulnerable to unintended influences.
In the most recent John Carroll Student Union Senate election, students were able to vote in the wrong class’ race and for more than three candidates, the allowed number. Subsequently, the votes of students who had voted for more than three people were invalidated. Though unintended, the unprotected features of this election led to potentially skewed results and enabled voters, like Vice President-elect, junior Maddie Tobolewski, to engage in suspected fraudulent behavior.
The anonymous election was accessed through an email link. Once voters clicked on the link, they arrived at a web page that requested their class year. No software was in place to confirm that the selected class year was accurate. According to President of Student Union, senior Jacob Schupp, this was to preserve anonymity.
“We have received questions as to why we don’t do a survey with a Banner ID, and we have explored that option, but a lot of students [find it complicated because their social and academic years might be different],” said Schupp. This mainly affects transfer and international students.
The purposeful anonymous design created opportunities for unethical behavior, according to Schupp, who, upon being asked if there was any way that people voted in the wrong class, said, “I mean hypothetically I guess, but I have no way of knowing.”
The number of votes registered for each class did not denote disparities between the 2018 election and previous ones. As expected, the freshman class had the most votes with 334, the sophomore class had 249 and the junior class had 190.
The final vote tally came after many students had received notice that their votes had been invalidated. According to Student Union advisor Lisa Ramsey, “The only problem that arose this year was during Senate elections and it involved a technological issue. According to the Elections Code, each student is allowed to vote for up to three candidates for Senate in their class.
“We discovered, a couple hours into the first day of voting for Senate, that two of the class ballots (sophomore and junior class) had an incorrect setting which allowed students to choose more than three candidates. Thankfully, the IT department could quickly identify the 40 students that were affected by this, cancel their votes and reissue them new unique links,” said Ramsey. One student who was affected by the missetting of preferences within Qualtrics was sophomore Gabi Sergi, who said that she never received a link to resubmit her invalidated vote.
Qualtrics, the software used for the polls, does not release the names or emails of voters to the Elections Committee, a caucus of Student Union headed by junior Anne-Cecilia Byrne. “We have such a hard time answering [these questions] because we only get the bar graphs of how many votes each of those people get. So we don’t know the ins and outs of the Qualtrics system or how IT is able to look at these different things,” said Schupp. Therefore, it is impossible to pinpoint agents of voter fraud.
That is, unless they openly identify themselves, as Tobolewski did in her TRS 337 class, according to junior Nick Holoman and sophomore Anthony Haas. “She told people that she decided not to vote on the junior ballot because she thought it was pointless. Her basis for that was that in the junior class, the class she’s in and the class that I was running in, there wasn’t really a race,” said Holoman.
In the junior class, five people ran for six Senate positions. In the sophomore class, 11 people ran for six positions. Since there was an extra position in the junior class, the president, or the person who collects the greatest number of votes, is then able to nominate someone to fill that position — an important role, according to Holoman.
Tobolewski told classmates she voted in the sophomore election not only because she thought it was more important, but also because she wanted to vote against sophomore Declan Leary, according to Holoman and Haas. Leary, a recently elected senator and editor at The Carroll News, said, “The executive vice president-elect of the Student Union openly committed fraud in this election and encouraged other people to do the same.”
After hearing about the alleged dishonest behavior, Holoman filed a formal complaint with the Elections Committee. Both Sherri Crahen, the dean of students, and Ramsey have stated that no investigation is being pursued at this time.
Schupp, Tobolewski, Crahen and Ramsey had no comment on Tobolewski’s alleged behavior. Tobolewski said, “Being in my position as senator and the elect VP, I checked with Abbey Bissel and I am not allowed to comment on this matter.”
If a hearing occurred and the verdict ruled unethical behavior, Student Union would be on unfamiliar ground. Mike Bishop, president-elect of the Student Union, said, “In our constitution, nothing like that is written but, at the same time, this has never happened, to my knowledge. So, I don’t know how that would be handled. Does OSE take something on this? Is this [a matter for the] dean of students? Is this us?”
Haas ran for a position in the sophomore class, but was not elected. According to him, the ability for students to vote in the wrong class did not have a noticeable impact on the results. “People didn’t really know about it, so that’s why I thought that it didn’t really have an impact.”
The only circumstance in which a reelection has been considered is when two students were tied in the number of votes they pooled, according to Schupp. In this case, the students would have the opportunity to continue their campaigns before the release of a second election poll, one week after the initial election had taken place.
Considering the amount of feedback from the current election, Schupp seemed open to reforming the voting process. “There’s nothing wrong with looking at the process. Process reviews are normal, so maybe it is just time to relook at the process.”
The next elections chair will be at the forefront of these changes. “My role is very, I don’t want to say underdeveloped, but there just hasn’t been someone who has gone in and said, ‘How can we improve the system?’ I am a very active person and I saw that there were a lot of situations and problems,” commented Schupp.
A change in the voting system could result in a more secure network. As for the case of Tobolewski, it remains confidential. “In general, if a complaint comes in regarding an election irregularity, it goes to the Elections Committee. If the respondent to the complaint is a member of the Student Union (i.e. elected office) the matter would be referred to the Student Union Hearing Board for a hearing and any warranted action. If the respondent is not part of the Student Union (i.e. not an elected member) the Elections Committee could refer the student to the Dean of Students Office for review and possible action,” said Ramsey.