Volume 13, Number 17 May 5, 2006

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Online voting saves time, improves confidentiality

By Simone Knapp

Spending time counting and recounting ballots is a thing of the past for the University Secretary’s office now that University Council elections have moved online.

“The online process has saved days of counting and recounting the ballots,” said Norma McBain in the Secretary’s office. “The votes were often close and sometimes three or more counts of the ballots were required.”

“We are always looking for ways to improve our processes,” said University Secretary Lea Pennock, who oversaw the electronic election of Council members at large at the end of March.  She added the upcoming by-elections for Library and Commerce Council representatives will also use the online format, and it may be extended to the election of a faculty member to the U of S Board of Governors and for Chancellor elections.

“This technology worked really well and we’re very happy with some of the other changes too,” she said, including the provision of candidate statements. “This change was not technology driven; rather it was the result of looking around at what could be done to improve the election process and having ideas start flowing.”   The candidate statements were on the Council website and the online ballot linked to them.


Rick Bunt, associate vice-president information and communications technology, said online voting not only saves time, but also improves confidentiality because the ballots and signature envelopes are no longer handled by people. According to Bunt, there is also the capability of collecting important statistics like voter turnout.

The Council Bylaws committee first began investigating the security and confidentiality of electronic elections in April 2005. In November last year, a Council motion transferred responsibility for elections to the University Secretary.  Her office conducted a trial electronic election in December for the Kinesiology Council member after which Council approved the use of PAWS for the March members-at-large election.

This year’s election was a blend of traditional and new practices, said Bunt. Nominations were submitted using paper forms, while the voters list, ballots and instructions were handled electronically. Pennock said that previously, more than 1,100 members of the General Academic Assembly were mailed voting instructions, the ballot and the return envelopes. This year, there were no ballots to mail out and instructions were sent via e-mail to the voters’ PAWS e-mail address.

“One thing this process revealed,” said Pennock “is that not all faculty realize they are getting mail in PAWS.” As a reminder, her office placed an ad about the elections in On Campus News and asked deans and department heads to send the instructions to voters.

Bunt and Pennock agreed the challenges to implementing electronic voting included providing secure access to the ballot and communicating the voting instructions, but these were outweighed by the benefits — ballots cannot be spoiled or lost, and even faculty who are out of the country on sabbatical can vote online.

Simone Knapp is communications officer in Information Technology Services

For more information, contact communications.office@usask.ca

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