Student Government Election Goes Online

In a move designed to reduce ballot-box stuffing and the time-consuming and error-prone method of hand-counting results, Columbus State University students are electing their student government representatives THIS WEEK exclusively by computer voting. The online balloting for the 2002-03 Student Government Association elections is taking place through Friday (4/19).

An additional and significant outcome of the shift from traditional balloting will be increased voter participation, said outgoing CSU Student Government Association President Robert DeVries. 'In observing participation patterns at other campuses which have made the switch, the results have consistently shown participation rates doubling in the second year and increasing in the third year before leveling off.'

In CSU's case, the usual 10-percent participation rate would remain the same in the first year before rising to 30 percent by the third year, DeVries added. 'This would be a significant accomplishment given CSU's traditional status as 'commuter campus' with older students.'

DeVries, who recently was elected to a one-year term as chair of the University System of Georgia Student Advisory Council, is 29 - nontraditional student himself. He said the convenience of having a week to cast a vote from anywhere with Internet access will draw more votes from older students who cannot spend as much time on campus in the manner of the traditional student who is likely a campus housing tenant.

Another factor keeping potential voters away has been a lack of information about the candidates. The computer ballot reverses this factor by including candidate profiles on the voting site. This year, for example, voters are able to read about the candidates for student body president - senior political science major Jonathan Barron, senior theater major Carla Gridley and junior accounting major Marla McQueen. Within each profile, each candidate explains how he or she stands on selected issues. Furthermore, DeVries said, candidate photos are excluded in order to eliminate superficiality from factoring in voter decisions.

DeVries, who studied online student government balloting at other campuses including Georgia Tech, presented the concept to CSU Webmaster Chris Whitehead and computer networking specialist David Eaton who implemented the system in a couple of days. 'The process was fairly simple - including some features we added to enhance the security of the voting system,' said Whitehead.

When accessing the voting site for the first time, students are directed to fill out an identification form. A random voting password is immediately assigned and e-mailed to each student's CSU e-mail account. The process is designed to ensure one vote per student.

In addressing the usual paper-ballot problems of ballot stuffing and human error in counting, online votes are instrantly tabulated. Election results at CSU in previous years have been hand-counted a minimum of five times over - creating several hours of waiting. Now, Devries said, results will be instantaneous.

Visit the balloting site, 'SGA Student Online Voting Booth' at http://students.colstate.edu/election.

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For more information, contact Robert DeVries at (706) 568-2405 or Chris Whitehead at (706) 565-3463 or by e-mail at whitehead_christopher@ColumbusState.edu