Staff Editorial

The integrity of our elections is at stake

By The Polytechnic Editorial Board March 26, 2019

A trustworthy elections process gives Student Government its legitimacy; members of the Senate are taken seriously because they were elected or indirectly appointed by the majority of voting students at Rensselaer. If a senator is perceived as improperly elected, that person’s authority to represent students is called into question.

Several issues with the election process were brought to light over the last year, including the integrity of the electronic voting system.

According to Elections Commission Chairperson Zachary Taylor ’21, the Commission plans to use the Rensselaer Union Voting System—also known as RUVS—in the upcoming elections. This decision is unsettling given that RUVS is not enough to guarantee reliable results.

Voicing our concerns to Taylor, he understood where we were coming from. He said although there are trade-offs to every potential system they’ve considered, RUVS is the best choice given the short amount of time before the election on Thursday.

However, the trade-offs for RUVS are the security and trustworthiness of our elections. It doesn’t matter if vote manipulation is “unlikely” or if the stakes are low with the small number of contested positions.

To have a trustworthy election system, it needs to be verifiable; voters must be sure that what they voted for is what’s being counted by the Commission. If something questionable happens, a recount can be done from those verified ballots. This is not possible with RUVS in its current, entirely electronic form.

The logs generated by RUVS record when and and how the database that stores votes is accessed or altered. But, these logs can also be altered, and the extent to which those actions are recorded is not specific enough to undo them. Regardless, electronic logs are a black box that cannot be verified by voters when they cast their ballots and therefore are not suitable for use in a recount.

Possible solutions to this problem include the use of a paper component with RUVS—like receipt printers that generate the person’s vote cast on a computer at the time of voting, or some form of paper ballots that can be scanned and counted by an electronic system. If it’s too late to implement one of these, the Commission should use the basic paper ballots that have been trusted and used for decades.

GM Week elections are the most important Student Government event of the year, as they determine who will represent and advocate for student interests. Though a switch this late in the election season would certainly be time consuming and inconvenient, the Commission should hold the verifiable elections students deserve.