By Laura Woodward
Ryerson democracy is going digital.
Voting in Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) elections will no longer be on paper ballots but online, after students voted in favour of the motion at the RSU Semi-Annual General Meeting (SAGM) on Nov. 30.
RSU president Andrea Bartlett put the motion forward as one of many bylaw amendments, but members voted to discuss it separately.
E-voting has been discussed in the past. In the 2008 SAGM online voting was shut down.
Online voting was first approved at a RSU Board of Directors meeting in October, after 88 per cent of 8,000 students voted in favour of digital voting in a campus-wide survey. The details of online voting had been discussed since the summer, according to Bartlett.
But some students opposed the motion.
Vajdaan Tanveer — a third-year politics and governance student and a member of Reignite Ryerson, the oppositional group to the RSU — argued that the privacy of voting could be compromised and ruin the democratic process in online voting.
“Somebody somewhere will know who and what you’re voting for. That goes against the democratic principles of free and fair election — and that’s a problem,” Tanveer said.
Online voting could introduce unjust tactics to get votes, according to Tanveer.
“Having laptops readily available will make it a huge problem,” he said. “It’s one thing to campaign and let the student decide to make their way to the polling station and it’s a very different thing to have a laptop ready and say, ‘Oh look you’re here you might as well vote for me, you don’t need to go talk to the other campaign.’
“This type of campaigning could happen at the campus pub, while students aren’t in the right state of mind,” he added.
The University of Western Ontario (UWO) has used an online voting system for students’ union elections since the late 1990s. UWO’s system was hacked after more than 12 years of use. A graduate student changed several campaigners’ names and the voting website to reference Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez — resulting in a re-vote, according to the London Free Press.
Ryerson’s Computing and Communications Services (CCS) will be working with the RSU to create a secure online voting system.
Brian Lesser, Chief Information Officer at CCS, said creating a voting system will be business as usual.
“CCS already provides an election system for Ryerson’s Board of Governors and Senate elections. I guess the RSU was aware of that and were interested in using our existing system,” Lesser said. “Since we already have a system it just seemed to make sense to make it available to them if they wanted to use it.”
Bartlett said that she and the board chose CCS, rather than outsourcing to a third-party system, because of the technical convenience.
“CCS already has the information of the students in the database so we don’t need to do a bunch of transferring of information of students,” Bartlett said. “They’re also on-site in the event that there’s an issue — there’s only three days of voting, so you can just go to the office of someone on campus, rather than somewhere else.”
The RSU is in the process of gathering the details of voting to get a quote for an adequate system.
There will then be a draft contracted to ensure there will be no third party intervention.
“After that contract is drafted we would have legal counsel look over this. Then we would run a beta test of the system itself,” she said.
There will be a mock vote prior to the actual elections, asking a pool of users questions to test the online-voting system.
This process is set to begin in January 2016.