Online voting helps turnout but is not foolproof

Anqi Shen
January 24, 2013
This article was published more than 2 years ago.
Est. Reading Time: 2 minutes

For the MSU, paper balloting is a thing of the past.

It’s been that way since 2011, and the students union intends to keep using Simply Voting, a digital balloting software that the MSU used in the last presidential election.

“We’ve seen an increase in voter turnout over the past couple of years,” said Steven Thompson, chief returning officer for the MSU’s elections department. “Online voting helps with that. It’s more convenient since there are no crazy line-ups. It also saves [the MSU] money and is more secure.”

Voter turnout at McMaster was at an all-time low in 2009. Only about 13 per cent of the student body casted ballots that year. The number nearly doubled the following year, reaching 22 per cent.

Voter apathy among students has been a long-standing challenge in universities across the country. At the University of Manitoba, voter turnout has averaged about 10 per cent. Queen’s University, with some of the higher turnouts in Ontario, has had more than 30 per cent of its student body vote in each of the past five years.

The MSU hoped to engage more students when it introduced online voting in its 2011 election, using UTS’s MacVote software. They switched to Simply Voting last year, and turnout rose to 33.4 per cent – the highest in a decade.

But online voting doesn’t always run smoothly.

Some McMaster students didn’t receive e-mails with voting passwords last election, even with multiple emails sent.

“I believe there were about a couple hundred e-mails that bounced last year,” said Thompson. “We re-sent e-mails to those who may not have received them, but some people just had full inboxes.”

Although 200 people doesn’t seem like a huge number, it’s worth noting that David Campbell, who’s running again this year, lost by only 47 votes to Siobhan Stewart in 2012.

That election took place before the mass Mac email system switchover from MUSS to Gmail. Thompson explained that limited storage space was the main cause of some technical glitches, adding that the MSU doesn’t anticipate any this year.

A more serious online voting malfunction happened earlier this week at the University of British Columbia, whose students union also use Simply Voting.

An overloaded e-mail server on the voting system resulted in 1,171 students not being able to vote for their board of governors and senate for more than 24 hours. A makeup ballot has since been made available.

At McMaster, online polling will open on Jan. 29 at 9 a.m., about three hours before the all-candidates debate hosted by the MSU.

While there will be no voting booths, laptops will be stationed in the Student Centre from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. from Jan. 29 to 31.


  • Anqi Shen

    Anqi is the Sil’s first online editor and often reports on post-secondary education, campus news and Hamilton arts.

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