(Editor’s Note: Please check back online and in our next print edition (April 7) for updated content on this report.)
Though not reaching the magnitude of what happened during the 2000 Presidential election in Florida, voting issues plagued last week’s Student Government Association (SGA) election, forcing a recount of the nearly 1000 votes cast.
The votes for the election had to be recounted after allegations were made that “false votes” had been cast. Despite the recount, which took three days and included both the SGA Election Committee and IT Services, TJ Eaves and Alecia Page remained the SGA President and Vice President, respectively. Eaves and Page were first announced as Western Carolina University’s new leaders of SGA via Facebook and Twitter on Thursday, March 24.
The recount occurred when competitors Doug Bridges and Ben Collette, running for President and Vice President, respectively, cried foul saying that the election had been tampered with due to illegitimate voters. Eligible voters must be undergraduate or graduate students of Western Carolina University with at least one credit hour for the semester the election is being held. According to the allegations, WCU alumni or students who had withdrawn from the University were able to sign on to the election website and vote.
Beginning on Saturday, March 26, SGA Election Committee members Mike Corelli (also the advisor for SGA), Austin Walker, and SGA graduate assistant Ryan Burnette recounted the votes along with IT Services. Out of a total 968 votes cast, 15 were found to be illegal after cross referencing over 7,000 student 920 numbers. Both IT and the committee members found that 15 920 numbers were from either past graduates of WCU or withdrawn students. Neither party could determine which campaigner the 15 votes went to.
However, the 15 votes were not enough to sway the election and the election committee made a unanimous vote during a special meeting held on Tuesday night that Eaves and Page were the new President and Vice President. The committee did not release the final vote count.
“The student body of WCU can rest assured that great lengths were taken to ensure that the election results are conclusive and clear winners have been produced in all races,” said Zachary Rumble, Lower Campus Senator for SGA.
According to Burnette, the MyCat program allowed former students to vote because of their MyCat password. If an alumni or withdrawn student of the University never changed their MyCat password from the birth date number they were given during orientation, then the server allowed him or her to vote in the election. In addition, according to information discovered when researching last week’s election problems, IT Services found that the election’s server has been collecting illegal votes for years. Voting miscounts and illegitimate voters could have been included in last fall’s Homecoming Election, past SGA elections, and any online election done through MyCat since its creation.
“I think this is a huge learning lesson,” Walker said to his fellow committee members.
IT will be fixing the server soon to make sure bad votes will not be a factor in future online WCU voting polls.
Eaves and Page were both relieved about the outcome of the recount. However, neither had been too concerned about losing their presidencies. They just wanted the truth to be known.
“Whenever we found out about the challenge,” said Eaves, “neither one of us was worried.”
“I’m feeling incredibly relieved and excited to get started,” added Page.
Bridges comments on the election can be found here.
All of the students who won seats for the SGA Senate in last week’s election were correct without any recount and any other allegations made in the aftermath of the election were dropped after discussion and voting by the election committee.
“The SGA Election Committee apologizes for the manner in which this year’s election transpired,” said Rumble. “As an organization, we have learned a great deal regarding how we can improve the management of the 2012 SGA elections and produce a favorable outcome for all students involved.”
Other problems with last week’s election included both Presidential campaigns going over the set budget of $75. However, there was a mistake made in who-said-what and the allegations were dropped after another unanimous vote by the committee.
Bridges and Collette were however charged $10 per person for leaving their campaign flyers up after the set date to remove them, which is 24 hours prior to election day. This is done in order to not sway the students’ votes based on whose flyer they saw the day of voting.
“I know it was late,” said Collette. “I’m not going to deny that.”
(Editor-in-Chief Justin Caudell contributed to this report)