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ASUNM taking its elections online this fall

ASUNM unanimously passed Bill 21S last week at its last Senate meeting of the semester, approving an initiative headed by Sens. Nadia Cabrera and Bisaan Hanouneh that would allow online access to ASUNM elections.

Increasing voter access was their main motivation, especially for commuter students, Cabrera said. But she also said that online voting for ASUNM, which GPSA already utilizes for its elections, was inevitable.

“Quite simply, this is the way of the future. It’s not necessarily a new, innovative system — it’s just time for UNM to move forward,” she said. “In the same way that we made the shift from paper ballots to the restricted online voting we have now, we are now adapting to the demands of modern students.”

The online ballot will be available through myUNM — the same method that monitored voting locations already use for elections.

“We think this is the way to streamline it so that you can’t vote once at a polling station and then once at your house,” Cabrera said.

She pointed out that due to elections occurring at roughly the same time as class registration, the site will be generating a lot of traffic, which will hopefully translate to a large number of votes.

At the outset, Cabrera and Hanouneh faced opposition from some members of ASUNM as well as University administration with regard to whether online voting can be smoothly implemented. The uneasiness was, for the most part, held over from the times that the same system was attempted previously.

“Many have tried and failed to take on this huge project,” Cabrera said. “When it was tried in the past, the legislation was hastily written with little research, all polling stations were abandoned, and there were no safeguards instituted in terms of time restrictions or campaign regulations.”

But she and Hanouneh made sure to work around the issues ahead of time, one of which was negative campaigning: students sending the link to other students and telling them not to vote for certain candidates.

“People would have the link right there and could act on the negative actions,” she said. “This link cannot be forwarded; only UNM students can use it, and only one time.”

Additionally, when it comes to uninformed voters casting ballots, online voting wouldn’t create any new issues, Cabrera said.

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“Honestly, that stuff happens now anyway. In fact, even those things happened now, where I heard that poll workers would take their friends’ IDs and vote for them,” she said. “That’s a kind of fraud that happens already, and voting online wouldn’t necessarily make that a worse situation.”

The plan also calls for an interactive element to the ballot, with which voters can read short bios of each candidate by mousing over their names.

The senators also looked at other schools that implement online balloting for student government elections to ensure they covered all bases.

Cabrera said one of the ideas they absorbed was the need for a disclaimer to voters that will read in part, “I hereby agree that my vote is confidential and entirely my own,” encouraging students to use online polling legitimately.

She said UNM IT told her that setting up the online polls can be done by the fall elections, usually held in November.

“They also said they would help advertise on the myUNM page itself, under the Student Life tab,” she said.

The bill incorporates several additions to the section of the ASUNM Law Book pertaining to elections, including the rule that “no candidate shall use a mobile device to physically solicit votes from students” via the online poll.

In addition, online voting will open and close at the same time as polling stations on campus do, on both Election Day and early voting.

Sen. Mack Follingstad, an ASUNM presidential candidate in this semester’s elections, voiced his support for the new method of voting at the meeting, citing low voter turnout this year as something affected by lack of access for all students.

“Commuter students don’t stick around (on campus) to vote, that’s just a fact,” he said. “This is a way of opening it up to them. This is a way of increasing access.”

In the fall, 682 undergraduates made it to the polls — down from 1,705 the year before. In this semester’s elections, 1,528 cast their ballots, a decrease of almost 800 from the 2,303 voters from the spring of 2014.

Even though her term as senator is over, Cabrera said she will continue working with Hanouneh to fine-tune the project.

“This has been something students have been asking for for years,” she said. “It just took a couple of ambitious senators to overcome the initial opposition to make it happen.”

David Lynch is a staff reporter at The Daily Lobo. He can be reached at news@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @RealDavidLynch.

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