Kiernan Majerus-Collins, former Bates College Student Government Parliamentarian, answers some questions regarding the recent election, which consisted in a surprising 695-ballotcount, and with a 93 to 7 percent result favoring a new Constitution.
Amar Ojha (AO): There was a question surrounding 695 ballots being counted and 695 students actually showing up to vote during this election.
Kiernan Majerus-Collins (KMC): Concerns about the legitimacy of any election are well-placed. The first priority is to make sure that elections are secure. In this particular election, we used the same security procedures we used in January. In January [election for Student Body President] we had 707 votes, and this time around we had 695, a slight dip. There is no evidence that we have to suggest that there was any sort of manipulation of the election results. It’s always possible that fake IDs may have been used.
AO: Can you comment on the time frame of the election, especially with regards to basketball game that day?
KMC: The most important thing that we were looking to do was that we had the election at a time when folks could vote and we made sure the election was held promptly after the amendment was offered. And so, we opened the polls on 7 A.M. that Friday, and kept them open until right before the basketball game started at 5:30. Obviously the turnout suggested that people were able to vote. 7 A.M. polls allows for anyone going to breakfast, lunch, and the first part of the dinner rush to go and to vote.
AO: Can you talk a little about the changing of Constitution the day before the election?
KMC: That is not quite right. The Constitution that was offered to the voters on Friday was the Constitution that we had in our possession the entire week. Changes that were being made, informally and unofficially being made by folks like Tomas, Berto, that sort of thing, were not changes that were offered Friday. We used the Constitution that was offered to us when the process started. What people sent out over announce emails, what people sent out over Facebook or links or whatever were not our concern. We sent out the text to the Constitution as it stood on Friday.
AO: There has been a lot of concern surrounding the deleted names of people who voted. Can you comment on this?
KMC: We don’t collect names. We collect ID numbers. This is an important distinction to make because if we collected names there wouldn’t be an issue. In January we reached out the Administration hoping to get a list of all the students to get names instead of ID numbers, but they wouldn’t give it to us, citing privacy concerns and that sort of thing. We had to make due with the next best option. The next best option was using ID numbers. And when you use ID numbers you have to balance between ballot security, which means checking ID numbers, to make sure no one votes twice, and also deleting those numbers, because we can’t have the officer of Student Government walking around campus with 700 ID numbers in their backpack. That is a terrible idea. It violates every principle of having private information and the fact that we’re using ID numbers at all is unfortunate, but that was something that was forced upon us by the administration. This is our best option to make sure we have a secure ballot while also maintaining student privacy.
AO: The U.S. Government has public record of voting attendance in registrar offices of different levels. This information does not reveal who or for what they voted for, but just who voted and who did not. Recent student government elections do not follow this protocol. Thoughts?
KMC: This is something we would love to do. It requires a list of every student who goes to the college. And we weren’t provided with that. To keep ID numbers in the system, that’s [what is] being suggested, is to say that we don’t care about student privacy in terms of their ID numbers and that we are supposed to go back and reverse engineer what ID number corresponds to what student. When we’re doing ballot security, we’re making sure that no ID number votes twice. We have no record of which student is connected to an ID number, as it should be because we don’t want to have anyone’s ID number stored with a name. The principle of trying to examine an ID number list is not only problematic because we have privacy concerns, but is doubly problematic because we have to reverse engineer what the numbers are. This is something that could be easily solved if the administration would give us the names, but so far, they’ve declined to do that. The other important thing to remember is that from the moment the polls opened to the moment the polls closed, the entire process was in full public view, and the counting process was in full public view. And so, the ID number security system was to make sure from our end that people weren’t trying to vote twice. It was successful in that endeavor. Nobody tried to vote twice, but the point is that we have a system that spits back those results. We enter a number, and it says whether or not they voted. So, that was on our end, to make sure we had ballot security. In terms of the faith of the student body on the election, the reality is that the election from the moment it opened to the moment we finished counting votes, the ballot box was in full public view. That’s something that’s incredibly important to us.
AO: Would just keeping ID numbers be problematic even if there was no way to make a connection from an ID number to a name, just to see that that was the actual turnout?
KMC: I can’t speak to every student at the college. I certainly wouldn’t have a problem [if] my ID number was checked against a list, but the reality is that we’re trying to encourage people to vote and anyone that is not going to vote because of privacy concerns, that’s a real loss. So we’d prefer not have to ask for ID numbers at all because I’m sure that’s turning away at least a couple of people. But the reality is that if you keep the list, if you keep the numbers, you could definitely see a drop in turnout because of the fact that people don’t want their numbers to be stored indefinitely. We had a lot of questions like, “What are you doing with the number?” more in January than in the recent election. But in both elections, “What’s happening to the number?” and the answer we would give that would satisfy most, but not all voters who asked that was that the numbers were going to be wiped at the end of the night, that that was just the policy. They’re gone. We’re not going to store them, we’re not going to keep them; they’re totally erased.
AO: Has that been the case in the past election?
KMC: Yes. That’s how we did things at the referendum, how we did things in January.
AO: In terms of counting the vote, I heard that there wasn’t the normal committee counting the votes at the end of the night.
KMC: Everyone who was counting the ballots was a member of the EJC.
AO: Who is a member of the EJC?
KMC: That would include myself and Owen Cardwell-Copenhefer, the same people who counted the bulk of the votes in January. And the reality was that we had Matthew Parrino and Connor Cahill, who decided to watch the vote counting in the room, and so in terms of public counting, there were other people there the entire time.
AO: Given the high turnout, was it hard to regulate the poll?
KMC: Not really. The system works very well. It’s a system where I think people are getting used to the idea where you write down your ballot, you give the ID, the ID gets checked, the ballot goes in the box. It’s a pretty smooth-flowing system. We would prefer, again, a system that was name-based. But the reality is that we’ve got this down so we can do several votes a minute at a really rush time.
AO: Can you talk about the lopsidedness of the election results?
KMC: Right, well, I wouldn’t want to speculate as to what the student body thought, but certainly some of the comments we heard at the polls were that people were fed up with the Student Government, and that anything that was going to shake it up, change it, was good with them. And the reality here is that I think we’ve seen a lot of dissatisfaction from the student body regarding the Student Government, so it’s not a surprise that they would want to try a different process.
AO: Can anyone launch a referendum from here on out?
KMC: Yes. In accordance with the constitution that was passed, the same rules regarding referendums that we had before are still the same. Any student can propose a referendum that Owen, myself, folks in the Parliamentary Council will work with them on wording to make sure that what the referendum says is what they want it to say and then it will be offered to the student body in the same way that we offered the last one.
AO: Any other clarifications you would like to make?
KMC: We saw the tremendous strength and effectiveness of this referendum system with the last referendum and anyone who wants to offer additional changes to the constitution should feel free to do so. We’re happy to work that out for them, make sure that the student body has a chance to think about other suggestions as well, that this referendum is only what we hope to be the first of many to continue to refine the role of the Student Government.