Between Jan. 20 and 23, 822 ballots were cast in the 2015 Lawrence University Community Council presidential and vice-presidential election.
For the first time, LUCC representatives recorded the names of students who had voted on a document shared on Google Drive. In the past, voters’ names were crossed off of an exhaustive directory of student and faculty.
“We used to have a folder for each class and we had to flip through and cross everyone [who voted]’s name out. We switched to the Google Docs format because it would allow us to have two different voting booths at the same time,” explained LUCC President Jack Canfield. “The advantage of that, just like the food truck put over [by the Con], is to make sure that conservatory students are included in the voting process.”
For the first time in an election, students were also able to vote at a booth in the conservatory. Approximately 40 votes were collected at this booth.
The rest of the votes were collected during lunch and dinner in the Warch Campus Center, at a table next to the information desk.
When the computer for the new system was not present, names were still recorded on a separate sheet of paper.
“The names written on sheets of paper when a computer was not present were then transferred to the Google Doc,” Jaz Astwood-Padilla, LUCC Parlimentarian and Chair of the Polling, Elections and Leadership Committee said. “There are steps being taken to potentially have voting done online in the future.”
Despite this advancement in the voting process, some students felt the representatives administering the polls were not careful enough in recording names. “They recorded my name on paper, not a computer, and later, when they asked me to vote again, I had to remind them that I had already voted,” said sophomore Tammara Nassar. “My friend’s name wasn’t even recorded.”
Freshman Sabrina Conteh had a similar story. “When I voted, it went really fast, and they probably recorded my name?” she said, unsure of whether or not the representative who took her ballot had actually made a note of who she was.
“If anything, the system we used this year improved upon that problem. That’s a problem we have every year, especially when you have a binder for each year you have to flip through and cross out somebody’s name,” explained Canfield, who went on to point out that “822 was a lot of votes compared to the approximately 400 students who voted last year, and the 200 or 300 who typically voted years before. “
“It’s conceivable that you might miss someone’s name…but I think this election, overall, was incredible,” Canfield continued. “Over half the student body voted. While I think there were some blips that might have taken place, it was mostly just due to the volume of votes.”
“The first ballot count, done Friday evening after the polls closed, yielded Wes [Varughese] the victor by only two votes,” said Canfield.
After this, a recount was done, this time confirming Varughese the winner by 11 votes. Canfield explained, “Part of the issue was that we had 822 votes… and it’s a hand counting system. There’s always going to be some kind of human error… the issue being that that’s such a high volume of votes. 11 votes out of 822 is incredible.”
At around 6:20 p.m. on Jan. 23, the last day the poll was open, junior Amaan Khan walked up to the table in Warch expecting to cast his vote. Instead, he found it deserted. “I was severely disappointed in LUCC’s performance during the election… The polling booth should never have been shut down before the official end time” said Khan. “As a member of the Lawrence community, I have the right to elect my representatives and by shutting down the booth, LUCC had consciously chosen to snatch that right away from me.”
The poll did close earlier than originally planned on Friday afternoon.
“This was due to the fact that there was a period in time where there was somebody tabling for an hour and only five people had come to vote,” explained Astwood-Padilla. “This was on the Friday during dinner hours so this was the last round of voter turnout after we had already reached 800 students.” Astwood-Padilla acknowledged that there were times when the number of representatives able to poll was limited, and LUCC “has noted to better implement procedures in the future to ensure proper attendance.”
According to section II-C of the LUCC By-laws of the Lawrence University 2014–15 student handbook, “The Polling, Elections and Leadership Committee (PEL) will set voting procedures for all elections, except for where specific procedures are outlined below. PEL shall present voting procedures for the next academic year to the General Council in writing; the procedures must be passed by a majority vote prior to the completion of third term. The General Council must approve any changes to the voting procedure.”
This means that as long as LUCC approved of these new systems before the election, it was within the authority of the PEL to make decisions about how the election was run.
Canfield expressed hope that LUCC would have “a little more foresight in anticipating this volume of voters” in the future, but also that he was “really pleased with this election… involving two worthy candidates. It’s really exciting that people cared.”