Board of Governors elections go on-line


Staff in the Board of Governors office have spent too many Sundays counting and recounting hundreds of election ballots.

Bruce Frank, secretary of the Board, hopes those tedious, mind-boggling days are a thing of the past. Frank is set to take future elections on-line, where technology will finally allow him a less taxing electoral campaign.

All elections will now be run on a site on the McMaster home page. Voters will be asked to rank their choices with a click of the mouse rather than an X on a ballot.

In the past, elections consumed weeks of Frank's life. From the mailing out of nomination forms and the distribution of individual ballots to each individual voter to the one-by-one return and tallying of those choices, elections took an eternity, or so it seemed.

“It's not like provincial or federal elections, which use the first-past-the-post system,” says Frank. “We have a transferable vote system, in which the winner must receive 50-per-cent-plus-one of the eligible votes cast. Voters rank the candidates. If no candidate gets 50-per-cent-plus-one on the first count, we knock off whoever received the fewest votes and distribute the second choices. The process continues until a candidate receives more than 50 per cent of the eligible votes cast or there are no more possible eliminations.”

The new technology will make its debut for the election of a graduate student representative to the Board in February. That election was supposed to take place in the early fall, but no one was nominated for the position. The election of faculty and staff members will occur in late March and early April.

The new program will be able to automatically calculate the votes and determine a winner almost instantaneously. This all occurs in a much more convenient manner. Voters can participate simply by logging on to their office computer or even from the comfort of home. Frank is currently arranging computer access for those who don't use them as part of their daily routine. It is hoped this luxury will see a higher voter turnout.

However, there is one step everyone must take to participate in the new system: all faculty and staff must receive a personal identification number (PIN) in order to be eligible to vote. The four-number code is randomly generated when an individual sends an e-mail request to This number can also be used to obtain personal information, including benefits and pension status, on the Human Resources Web site.

In a similar way, students possess a number in order to navigate on MUGSI, the undergraduate student information system, for grade reports, timetables, and program status. It was that system which first attracted Frank's interest.

The PIN insures complete privacy and security of information and voting. It is expected that many staff and faculty members will harbour concerns when faced with a departure from the traditional secret paper ballot process.

“There is certainly no more risk than with paper,” contends Heather Grigg, senior manager of client services in Computing & Information services and a member of the CIS team that developed the system. “The transmission of the employee's ID number and PIN is encrypted. There's no way of knowing who's who.”

The temporary election Web site will be highly visible from several locations on the McMaster home page. Frank has had the technology since the fall, but even he initially feared the change.

“I was reluctant to use the new technology right away on our biggest constituency of voters,” admits Frank.

After running several mock elections, he has no worries about such a dramatic change in the electoral process. Frank thinks the system can be used in the future for other elections, including Senate and McMaster Students Union polling.