By Ryoji Watanabe, News Writer, MC/MPA’12
Following the Fall 2011 elections, when a critical error in the online voting system contaminated the results of all the contests (and most egregiously, that of the Mid-Careers and MPA1s), some Kennedy School students were wary that their votes might be miscounted again. “Back home, many of us have witnessed unfair elections and have struggled,” remarked one international student from Africa. “At the Kennedy School of Government, it is crucial that elections are managed properly. In a school full of aspiring world leaders, we cannot close our eyes, do nothing and simply accept the status quo.”
Gazal Kalra, MPA1, became the Vice President of Internal Affairs few weeks after the fall elections and immediately took steps to fix the election system. “I invested time upfront to understand the HKS IT setup, election process and timelines,” she says, “The Elections Committee has to work with the given HKS IT setup. Hence, it was crucial to create an election process that was supported by this IT system.”
On an intuitive level, the fall election problem was fairly simple. According to election regulations, students should have only been eligible to vote for candidates representing their own class; however, the election website allowed all students to vote in all categories. Perceptive students noticed that something was fishy when 212 votes were counted in the Mid-Career race – even though there are only 196 students in the Mid-Career class. Even if all students in the program casted a vote – a statistical improbability if there ever was one – the extra 16 votes come from could only be explained by illegal voting from other classes.
Fixing the online voting platform, however, needed to come hand-in-hand with organizational reform and the creation of new failsafe mechanisms. The errors in the fall election were caused by a series of system failures including a lack of verification guidelines, a shortage in the labor force, and an incomplete transfer of knowledge from one election to the next. Without mechanisms in place to verify election errors, the Fall Elections Committee – all volunteers who are relatively new to the process – did not realize that there was a mistake until a student pointed out the problem. The fact that the Elections Committee did not disclose the issue and acknowledge the mistake to the school added to the overall frustration felt by the affected students.
As one of her first acts as the VP of Internal Affairs, Ms. Kalra established the Elections Reform Committee, which immediately set to work revising KSSG by-laws and the elections process. The reforms introduced during the Spring 2012 elections include:
|Major Reform Items||Before||After|
|Elections Committee members comprised of general volunteers||Given the synergies between the Electoral Politics PIC and the Elections Committee mandate:
The EPPIC Chair who is a subject matter expert, will be a member of the Elections Committee and/or
The EPPIC Chair will nominate up to 2 members to the Elections Committee
|Election Staff||Elections Committee consisted of a Chair or Co-Chairs and at least three other members.||Elections Committee needs to consist of a Chair or Co-Chairs and at least four other members. Increased one member.|
|Verification System||Students were able to vote for any candidate even those in other classes for Class Representatives.
The votes were not validated nor disqualified by the Elections Committee.
|An eligible voter will be authenticated against a secure KSSG server via their unique system ID and password. The Elections Committee Chair will email the polling links to each class separately.
The Elections Committee will validate official class lists before with the Program Directors of each program. Ballots shall be counted and collated by the Elections Committee Chair(s) and monitored by the appropriate systems administrators.
Carl Manlan, a Mid-Career MPA student from Cote d’Ivoire who decided to take part in the Elections Committee, commented, “I wanted to contribute to help the team implement the reforms. There was a potential risk of getting myself involved in something that could be highly criticized if the reform had not yielded the expected results. I was impressed by the efficiency and clarity of the process and objectives presented by Ms. Kalra at the first meeting. “ However, he considers the real work not to be the elections, but rebuilding the students’ trust. Judging from the low participation of many classes in the spring elections, Mr. Manlan wished that KSSG including Class Representatives explained the reforms during the fall semester and improved the credibility of KSSG in running elections.
Nevertheless, the election reform proved a successful process in the spring elections. Just like in the Fall, the Mid-Career class had a very competitive election with 13 candidates running for six seats. Following the initial vote, KSSG held a run-off election with three candidates for the last two Mid-Career Class Representative spots. Thanks to the quick reform carried out by the Elections Committee, another setback in the elections was avoided.
Remarked Ms. Kalra: “In my country, India, the most recent elections consisted of an electorate of 714 million and declared election expenditure of $300 million using more than one million electronic voting machines. The task is mammoth! And free and fair elections are absolutely critical to gain the electorate’s trust. The HKS Election Reforms will continue this semester and we hope to create an even more robust system for the fall elections.”