After two weeks of campaigning, University of Redlands junior Anne Thorson was elected to be next ASUR student body president. Thorson beat her opponent, University of Redlands junior Emma Wade, 55 percent to 44 percent. These results were called into question when the student body and the administration discovered that 41 students did not initially receive the email from ASUR advisor Denise Davis containing a Survey Monkey ballot allowing them the opportunity to cast their vote for the next ASUR president.
University of Redlands purchased their Survey Monkey account in 2007, and has been running elections through a Survey Monkey polling system since then. Every email from Survey Monkey must include an “opt out” option, which makes it so that you don’t receive future polls taken by that specific user. So, 41 people, at some point, had opted out of receiving surveys from the University account and thus did not receive the email, “Vote: ASUR President 2016-2017”.
“Of the 41 individuals who did not receive a link, who had previously opted out, there were six individuals who emailed in some way and were able to have their vote counted,” Brandi Veigh said, this year’s Administrative Election Advisor. “Those six people that messaged in, we asked for an alternate email so we could send them a link, because if they said they opt out, we can’t send another email to that address. That’s the definition of opting out.”
Two of those six people ended up casting their vote by simply sending an email with their preferred candidate to Veigh, and then from there, their vote was manually entered into the system. The other four of the six provided their vote by using the Survey Monkey ballot that was sent to an alternative email address. The other 35 students who did not receive the email did not cast a vote in the election.
“With the exception of those 41, every other student who is in the locator received that email,” Veigh further explained. “There were 781 individuals who voted through the system, and an additional 2 people emailed me their votes. So all 783 got their votes counted.”
Veigh said the ASUR Constitution accounts for potential errors of this sort.
“In our constitution, it says ‘any eligible ASUR member, any student at the university with a valid university email address, shall receive a link to the online ballot. Email addresses of those who vote shall be recorded by the online survey. If an eligible ASUR member does not receive a link to the online ballot, they may submit their vote to the elections commission advisor,’” Veigh read from the ASUR Constitution. “So there is an allowance for that margin of error.”
Davis said that ASUR hasn’t stumbled upon issues with voting via Survey Monkey until this year.
“It’s been pretty effective,” Davis said. “[Veigh] and I are newer in these positions but we both had the assumption… We knew students could opt out of the process and that’s a little bit disappointing because we want students to be engaged and want as many students to vote as possible and we certainly want everyone to have equal opportunity to vote but students choose to opt out of these surveys.”
With further investigation, Veigh, Davis and ASUR Election Commissioner and University of Redlands senior Emily Hoyt discovered that you are able to track, and in theory, contact, the people who have opted out of the surveys. After acquiring that new information, Veigh and Davis decided to calculate how the 35 people who did not receive emails may have affected the outcome of the election. They concluded that if all 35 of those votes went to Wade, Thorson still would have won.
“Anne had 403 people [vote] through normal means. Emma had 323. Emma had 15 write in candidates and Anne had 13 write in candidates on top of that. But you can see that spreads much larger than 35 votes,” Davis explained. “Even though these numbers don’t look so close, we do it by percentages so if hypothetically all those 35 votes went to Emma, even though she would have less percentage than Anne, that would drop Anne’s percentage down to 50.6 percent which still makes her the winner by a very small margin. Because in ASUR you have to get 50 percent plus one vote, and one vote is like .004 percent. So it’s super close but even with the 35 votes, Anne would still be the winner.”
Immediately after acquiring this information, Veigh and Davis decided to call in the candidates to discuss the 35 people who did not vote and to go over the calculations that they made.
“In this particular situation, a meeting was held between [Davis, Veigh] and the two candidates,” Hoyt said. “The results of that meeting was that recall election or runoff election was not going to be held.”
Davis said that if the candidates had wanted to let those 35 people vote, that could have been addressed.
“We presented this information to the candidates and they both said, including Emma, ‘that’s fine let’s just leave it as is,’” Davis said. “We gave them the option of letting those people vote and they both declined that option.”
In order to avoid any issues like this in the future, ASUR is likely to use UR Connect as the means of voting next year instead of Survey Monkey.
“Survey monkey has aided us for many years in this,” Veigh said. “But going forward we are going to start using UR Connect as our platform, but we are still learning how to use it in that capacity. It’s a similar process, you load people in, but unlike Survey Monkey, it does not allow people to opt out. So I’m sure some people will really like that, and I’m sure some people who opted out and didn’t want to receive those, may not like that quite as much. But it does not have that option so students will receive those emails.”
The issues with the emails has helped inspired Veigh and Hoyt to review the Elections Code to make sure it is serving the students as well as possible. If anyone has suggestions, they are encouraged to share their insight with ASUR.
“We are taking a look at the elections code,” Veigh said. “[Hoyt] and I are going to sit down in March and take a look at some of the concerns brought up we want to make sure it’s not a process that’s set in steel. We want to make sure it’s a process that lives with our students. If anyone has anything they’d like to chat with us about, I am absolutely open to having those conversations.”
It was concluded by Hoyt, Davis and Veigh that this year’s election for ASUR president was conducted fairly and everyone did everything in their power to advocate for both Wade and Thorson’s candidacy.
“Overall I do think that the election process is fair,” Hoyt said. “It’s the way we’ve been doing it for several years now, we haven’t really had any problems with it. But I do agree that students can come to us for concerns, even now that the election is over, if they have any suggestions with the way that elections are run or concerns with them, please bring them to me or [Veigh’s] attention.”
[Editor’s note: Additional reporting done by Adam Taylor and Hedy Yu for this article.]