GM Week 2020

Online elections to use third-party system

Elections Commission Chairperson Keenan Adams ’21 announced during the Senate meeting on March 21 that the Elections Commission plans to use a third-party to host elections online due to the move to online-only classes. He said he would “rather trust a third-party system that can prove that they are working directly for elections and only for elections” and “they can prove that they are anonymous ... that would show a much better response to the student body in general than using any ad-hoc system that we can come up with.”

When asked by The Polytechnic about the specifics of the systems being considered by the Elections Commission, Adams explained that the two systems being considered are Helios Voting and ElectionBuddy.

Helios Voting is an open-source platform that is free to use. According to their website, individual votes are encrypted and then combined to produce an encrypted tally of the election. The encrypted tally of the election is the only thing that can be decrypted while the individual votes are impossible to decrypt. Adams said that the Rensselaer Union Systems Administrators and Developers—paid student employees who run and manage the Union’s online activities—looked at the code and gave their approval. Adams mentioned there are two main problems with Helios Voting; the software does not support write-in voting and it is unknown whether the Rensselaer Shibboleth Identity Provider can be used to log in to the elections.

ElectionBuddy is a paid election service that Adams confirmed can support both the size of student elections and the ability to write-in candidates. He estimated the cost of the service to be at least $600. His concern with the software was that it is not open-sourced which meant that the code was not verified to be secure.

Adams said if neither of the systems are feasible then the Election Committee will investigate other systems that are related to Helios Voting, and that as of the March 21 Senate meeting, “none of these systems can confirm work right now”. Grand Marshal Meagan Lettko ’20 said that if the third-party systems are not sufficient for the needs of the election “we’re not going to use them if we don’t believe it's the best way to go about having elections.”

Once a voting system is decided on it must be voted on by the Elections Commission and then confirmed by the Senate, per the Election Handbook.

In a followup call with The Polytechnic, Adams explained that the Rensselaer Union Voting Suite and Senate Survey Platform were both ruled out as a possible solution by the system admins.

According to Adams, RUVS would need a complete overhaul to allow for online voting. The current RUVS system relies on designated “polling laptops” and the election chairperson enters a password to authorize that laptop. Adams said he would have to give out the password to everyone in order for the system to be used on a personal laptop. The system is also built to work only on the RPI network.

The Student Senate Survey was ruled out because of concerns that the system was not built for elections and may not be able to handle the amount of traffic that elections bring.

When asked about the current absentee ballot where voters email in their votes, Adams called the process “ad-hoc” and “barely anonymous,” though he said that it could be used on a case-by-case basis if a single student has problems with the chosen solution. He also dismissed the use of paper ballots.

If there is no election, then there are succession policies to fill the main positions in Student Government. The grand marshal would be appointed by the Senate, the president of the Union would be appointed by the Executive Board, and the undergraduate president would be appointed by all active class councils.

All three positions would need a two-thirds vote of approval from the Senate. If there is a vacant class senator position, then it would be filled by an appointment by the corresponding class council. All currently elected officials would stay elected until the next election for that position.

During the Saturday Senate meeting, Lettko said that the Senate “didn’t want to immediately jump to this process [of succession] as this does not obviously include the student body in determining who the next leaders of the groups will be.”