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Several students report issues with ASSU election ballots

Students who took a leave of absence last quarter did not receive ballots for ASSU elections, while some others who were enrolled all year also at least initially did not find their ballots, The Daily confirmed Friday with Elections Commissioner Paul Serrato ’19. Some students were also concerned about a bug in Grad Student Council (GSC) ballots, which was fixed for later ballots as well as retroactively.

Historically, students who were on leave the quarter before elections cannot vote because ballots are based on winter registration data. Although there was previous concern about a more widespread ballot problem also affecting students that were officially enrolled during winter quarter, the affected ballots appear to be limited in scope. According to Brian Cook, director of assessment and program evaluation at Stanford’s Institutional Research and Decision Support, only four students out of 15,913 certified as enrolled contacted Serrato about not receiving a ballot, and only three of those students were confirmed to actually have been enrolled.

Serrato said previously registered students later found ballots in their junk mail. The Daily has confirmed this with one student it spoke to who initially said he did not receive a ballot. However, Elisa Hofmeister ’18 — who has been enrolled all year — maintains that she did not find the ballot in her junk mail folder after searching. Serrato said that the Qualtrics system confirms it sent at least one email to her, but that her privacy settings may have prevented it from going through.

“We definitely believe in all eligible voters to have the right to actually vote,” Serrato said. “We in no way want to disenfranchise anyone, because that’s not what the ASSU elections are about.”

He added Friday that the commission was working “diligently” to respond to all emails and supply the students with ballots before the election closed, as well as figure out where the discrepancy between students and ballots may have occurred.

According to Cook, the ballots may have been lost due to a number of technical reasons. This year, his office worked with the University Registrar to confirm enrollment data for all students, which was then made available to the commission — with personally identifying information about particular students excluded.

“People have a misconception of how easy it is to access these records,” Cook said. “In terms of quarterly enrollment, there are a lot of issues with when students sign up for classes, which department they’re in … some graduate students are enrolled in three different graduate programs, so we’d have to certify their enrollment in all three of those things.”

In the past, the Registrar has confirmed who is eligible after receiving all votes, which Cook described as a messier process with less transparency than the new Qualtrics system, in which students’ eligibility is confirmed before voting. He also added that the number of students for which the ballots were lost is likely “very small.”

According to Cook, in order to send missing ballots to students, Serrato had to collect names and SUNet IDs, for which he could then confirm enrollment in order to send ballots.

At 6 p.m. on Friday, six hours before the ballots closed, Serrato said that the Commission was currently in the process of collecting the information to send to Cook “shortly.” According to Cook, Serrato provided these four names at 8:50 p.m., and Cook confirmed enrollment of three students — as well as their presence on the commission’s list to receive ballots — by 9:15 p.m.

Hofmeister, an RA in Cedro, has been registered as a student all year but said she did not receive a ballot in her regular inbox or junk mail. Several of her residents, she said, received links to ballots that appeared to be broken. She tried to find a way to vote on the ASSU website, but could not; individualized links are necessary.

“I guess it’s just ridiculous to promote civic engagement and be upset at people for not engaging in voting in elections and then not even give them the ability to do it,” Hofmeister said. “I would have voted.”

Other students, including Madeleine Rowell ’18, were excluded from voting after taking a leave of absence winter and fall quarter. According to Cook, the elections commission has traditionally used winter quarter enrollment data because the University does not keep official enrollment records until the third week of the quarter. This makes spring data simply unavailable during the weeks in which ASSU schedules its elections.

Changing the voting timeline in order to use spring quarter data, Cook said, is up to the ASSU rather than the University. He also stressed that the University “is not involved at all” in elections beyond providing enrollment data.

Luka Fatuesi ’17, assistant financial manager of the ASSU, cited a number of reasons why voting must occur early in the quarter.

“The General Election has traditionally been scheduled during the first two weeks of Spring Quarter, and delays are only in extraordinary cases,” he wrote in an email to The Daily. “The ASSU needs to ensure a smooth transition in both the Executive and Legislative branches; delaying the election past Week 3 inhibits that.”

Additionally, he said, the ASSU can only integrate Annual Grants and Special Fees into the student fee after elections take place, making the timeline difficult to shift. A delayed election would not allow enough time to place the student fee on tuition bills by a May 1 deadline.

Serrato did not comment on whether Friday’s midnight deadline to submit ballots would be extended for students who got their links late.

Rowell researched the different platforms for about an hour before realizing she hadn’t received a ballot. After reaching out to Serrato and confirming that she could not vote, she felt her exclusion was “arbitrary” and made re-assimilating onto campus feel a little worse.

“I’m not sure why this policy is in place, it seems pretty backward/unfair,” Rowell wrote in an email exchange with Serrato she provided to The Daily.

“I care a lot about who’s representing the student body in student government and making sure that different student interests are represented,” she told The Daily later.

Meanwhile, on the GSC ballot, students that attempted to vote before 12:20 a.m. on Thursday were not able to properly select candidates from among the at-large candidates. In an email forwarded to The Daily on Friday, current GSC member and Ph.D. student Isamar Rosa M.S. ’15 wrote that the Elections Commission was “hard at work” in identifying affected ballots and coming up with a solution.

Ultimately, Fatuesi said, the Elections Commission sent out corrected ballots to all students affected by the initial glitch, which he said gave them “ample time” to re-vote before the election closed. An email sent at about 5:30 p.m. on Friday asked impacted voters to resubmit before midnight given that not that not all GSC candidates were originally displayed.

For Ph.D. student Alexander Dunlap, the Election Commission’s solution was not sufficient. Dunlap saw the re-vote email as he was preparing to go out but decided to fill it out later, thinking that “it couldn’t possibly require action so quickly.” As a result, he said, he was not able to revise his choices.

“Thus students who were not checking their email after the close of business on a Friday night were disenfranchised,” he told The Daily in an email. “I feel that this is pretty egregious.”

In an email chain provided to The Daily by a student who wished to remain anonymous, a GSC council member also noted that the five at-large winners of the GSC were the same five names listed on the “~100 first opened ballots,” in reference to the ballots opened before 12:20 a.m. on Thursday, the Daily confirmed with the council member on Sunday.
The council member went on to add that these same five candidates were also the first five “to show up on the top of the list for three recent ballots I’ve seen/seen screenshots of.” However, Serrato noted in an email to the Daily that “the order in which GSC At-Large candidates appeared on the ballot was randomized using the Qualtrics system to ensure fairness” and that the at-large winners were thus selected fairly.
When asked for comment, the Elections Commissioner did not comment on the specific issues mentioned in the email chain, citing general voter turnout statistics and the fact that the at-large candidates were listed randomly.

Responding to questions about how many GSC voters were affected and managed to recast their votes, Serrato said that the Elections Commission is still finalizing the election count. Details will be presented at next week’s Senate and GSC meetings.

The initial list of winners released by the Commission also had the wrong name of one of the GSC representatives from the School of Engineering, wrote the council member in the email chain. Serrato clarified later that these results were preliminary.

Serrato said there was “room for improvement” in the election process, though he later clarified he meant with the election process as a whole and with outreach, rather than any issue of disenfranchisement specifically.

Still, Cook praised the new Qualtrics system for making “big strides” this year for both the ASSU and the University.

“It’s a pilot process at some level because this is the first time we’ve done it,” he said. ”But from my perspective, this is much, much better, much more transparent and much more accurate than it’s ever been in the past. Having gone through some of these issues, I think from my perspective they’re in a position where they can improve even more going forward so that it’ll work a lot better.”

Any students who feel they did not receive their ballot in error are encouraged to contact the Elections Commission at paul@elections.stanford.edu.

 

Contact Fiona Kelliher at fionak ‘at’ stanford.edu.

 

Hannah Knowles also contributed to this report.

 

This post has been updated to reflect Serrato’s subsequent clarification of a quote as well as comments from Fatuesi and Serrato’s update that registered students found ballots in their junk inboxes. The post originally stated that Serrato had confirmed that students registered last quarter did not receive ballots; however, the ASSU cannot confirm students’ enrollment status. The article has been updated to reflect that. 

This post was further updated to reflect the four people emailing complaints sent from Serrato to Cook, which were previously unknown to The Daily.

A final update added new information about GSC re-voting, incorporating Dunlap’s quotes and Fatuesi and Serrato’s responses, as well as information that one student later found his ballot in his junk mail while Hofmeister said she did not. This update also reflects information from email screenshots about the GSC at-large winners being the same as those listed in the first-opened incorrect ballots, and the Commissioner’s response. This update also corrected that the first-opened ballots were fixed retroactively and additional commentary on multiple points from Serrato.

An earlier version of the article incorrectly described early issues with GSC ballots as affecting categories besides the at-large portion of the ballot. The Daily regrets this error.