WLUSU election goes online

With voter turnout at approximately 20 per cent of the student population in the 2010 Wilfrid Laurier University Student Union election, questions of how to encourage students to vote persist.

At the Oct. 29 meeting of the WLUSU board of directors, president Kyle Walker brought forward a proposal to introduce online voting for the next set of elections.

Walker explained that by creating a program in conjunction with the university’s information technology services (ITS) department, “The voting would be done through MyLaurier, and would allow votes to be tabulated as soon as the election closes at 8 p.m.”

The motion to create a contract for online elections was met with unanimous support from the board.

The idea of online voting for WLUSU elections is not by any means new.
“It was discussed last year by the elections policy committee, however, it was too late to get the system going in time for the elections,” Walker said.
Using the MyLaurier homepage as a polling station will ensure that voting is readily accessible for all students.

Collaborating with the university will also enable the voting system to access student information through LORIS, allowing ballots to be customized depending on the student’s program, and would allow efficient tracking of voter information and confirmation of students’ identities. “The university has a lot of experience doing this kind of programming,” Walker said of the capacity to create such a system.

The preliminary estimate for the system to be designed is $20,000. There will also be annual costs associated with the program, including its launch, as well as labour costs for someone to monitor the site during the election.

The current costs for an election using the traditional method include fees for scantron use, ballots and labour.

Walker said the investment in an online system “should pay for itself in the long run.” During the meeting, board chair Kyle Hocking remarked that the payback would be over four or five years.

Where the money to cover the cost of creating the system will come from remains to be seen. Walker stated he “will work with the university to see if they will kick into the cost.”

The ITS department’s Fazil Rasheed has been brought in as the project’s manager. Rasheed explained that ITS has “created similar systems, but with each system being unique, we would conduct testing to ensure that things run well.”

Support for the initiative seemed strong within WLUSU management. VP of public affairs Pam Blomfield explained, “We are looking to get students engaged and putting elections online will make voting so much more accessible.”

Walker noted, “Any location with a computer can become a ballot station, which would work well for students who may not be on campus.”

The decision to hold the next WLUSU election online has not been finalized.
If the board agrees to the contract drafted between WLUSU and ITS, the creation of the voting system will begin in December, with testing conducted in January.

The idea of having two days of voting during February’s election has also been discussed.

Dialogue concerning the extension of the voting period, the online voting initiative, as well as the possibility of suspending campaigning entirely on election day(s) will continue at the Dec. 10 board meeting.