Complaint prompts review of election

By Daniel Rothberg

Administrators investigated concerns that last year’s Senior Prefect election results were tainted due to the fact that the electronic ballot was briefly inaccessible to students during voting, Head of Upper School Harry Salamandra said. After exploring the issue, administrators reached the conclusion that the results of the election were valid.

“After speaking with all three of [the Prefect Council] advisers and getting a better understanding of what the potential issues were, we decided that there had been a fair election, although, indeed, there had been a snafu with the new [software] program,” Head of School Jeanne Huybrechts said.

Concerns were initially raised by Jules Bagneris, the father of Mariana ’11, a candidate in the election. Last May, in a letter to the administration, which Bagneris gave to The Chronicle, he said that his daughter had tried to vote after she came home from school but could not access the online ballot. Mariana notified Chaplain J. Young, one of the three election coordinators.

Young said that Mariana was unable to access the ballot because the England-based website used for the election, KwikSurveys, operates on a different time zone. As a result of the difference in time zones, voting was unintentionally programmed to end early.

“I had made an error with the stop and start time,” Young said.

Young said that he fixed the mistake and estimates roughly 10 minutes elapsed between the time voting stopped and started up again.

“The problem that occurred was rectified quickly and I feel that the people that were in charge of the election process did a fair and accurate job in administering the election,” Salamandra said. “I did not feel that the time that the site was down made a significant difference in the outcome of the election by looking at the number of votes.”

Both Young and Salamandra said that Mariana was the only student to bring this issue to the administration’s attention.

Salamandra believes that this is one indication that the issue with the website did not impact voting significantly.

“I’m confident that Harvard-Westlake students would have let us know that there was a problem …soon after,” Salamandra said. “I think it would have been frustrating if they couldn’t vote and they would have asked why. I didn’t get that from where I’m sitting.”

Young also said that there was no indication that this was a widespread problem.

“I suspect there may have been one or two other [students] that tried to vote in that period,” Young said.

When polls closed, the percentage of students that participated was similar to previous years, with 225 out of approximately 280 students voting, Young said.

“If we had multiple reports, I think we would’ve viewed it differently,” Salamandra said.

While Huybrechts said that results from the election were accurate, she said that more could have been done during the election to avoid controversy after the election.

“I would recommend that the advisers, in the future, take some additional measures…to mitigate any problems that we might encounter,” Huybrechts said.

Huybrechts said that from her experience, complaints after elections are not uncommon.

During her 10 years as a middle school administrator and then as Head of School, she said that she can recall at least four occasions when she has been asked to look into the election process or election results.

“That’s quite often,” she said. “Sometimes it has to do with individuals questioning campaign rules. I do remember some problems with paper ballots.”

Despite the voting irregularity, Huybrechts believes that using an electronic ballot is more accurate than using a paper ballot.

Huybrechts said that many issues arose with paper ballots.

Ballots were lost, students did not knowing where to vote, and a significantly lower number of students participated.

However, many of these issues were eliminated when online voting was implemented, Huybrechts said.

“We will continue with online voting for certain,” Huybrechts said. “I believe it is really important that we understand the program being used for our online voting [and] that we understand all the potential problems that could crop up.”