For the second time in a week, a computer error forced the cancellation of the Associated Students of Madison spring Student Council election. The error might also threaten the results of the contentious referendum election that ended Tuesday.
Wednesday afternoon, Department of Information Technology officials informed members of the Student Election Commission that a computer error caused a disparity between the number of student votes cast and the number of votes confirmed on its online election database.
DoIT officials said they could not validate those election results because of the discrepancy. The organization recommended the commission cancel the in-progress ASM Student Council election that opened Wednesday morning and proceed with paper ballots at a later date.
During an emergency meeting last night, the election commission voted to do just that.
However, with that decision, the commission is now faced with a bevy of pressing election issues, with the most urgent being completing the election by the end of next week.
Under the ASM Constitution, no elections can be held after the 13th week of a semester.
If no elections are completed by that time, according to Student Judiciary Chief Justice Nick Fox, there would technically be no Student Council the following semester, an unprecedented situation in the history of ASM.
"The main constitutional concern … is that many votes are not being counted at this point," Fox said. "The other constitutional issue is that we have to get it done next week. We can't go any longer than that."
Next week's Passover and Good Friday holidays could further complicate the issue. Under ASM bylaws, the organization cannot conduct official business on observed holidays. This, technically, would force the election commission to complete the ASM elections by Wednesday night at sunset — when Passover begins.
Other issues discussed by the election commission Wednesday night included how to conduct the elections when voting reopens.
Following the advice of DoIT officials, the election commission decided to have the Student Council elections be conducted with paper balloting, instead of the online voting system that has failed twice in the last week. The commission also voted to use student IDs to electronically verify that students only vote once.
March 29, the commission suspended the ASM election after the discovery of a "technical error" that potentially prevented some students from casting votes for all the Student Council candidates they wanted to.
The commission ultimately decided to split the election into two parts — one for the referendums and one for the Student Council seats.
With the discovery of another computer error that affected the election results, DoIT officials advised the commission to move to a paper ballot.
"This system is something we're not prepared to run again," DoIT Director Annie Stunden told the commission. "Paper [balloting] is the solution right now."
While elections for Student Council seats wait to be reopened, the results of the referendum votes that concluded Tuesday were also called into question Wednesday night.
With DoIT officials saying there were 436 student votes for the two referendums on the ASM ballot unaccounted for, SEC Vice Chair Joshua Tayack, in the 11th hour of Wednesday night's meeting, suggested the commission re-examine the referendum election results.
Two contentious referendums were on the ASM ballot this past week.
The Wisconsin Union referendum — which would have raised student fees to fund a Union renovation project — failed by a margin of 695 votes. The other initiative on the ballot, the Living Wage referendum — which aims to raise the wages of many University of Wisconsin employees — passed by a margin of 1,108 votes.
While the number of votes unaccounted for does not equal the difference of either referendum vote, Tayack said that the nullification of the referendum results was a possibility.
"The problems that affected the candidate election also affected the initiative election," Tayack told the commission. "It brings up enough questions to definitely reconsider re-running the initiatives."
With ASM being tossed into yet another chaotic election situation, Interim Dean of Students Lori Berquam Wednesday night voiced her belief that the current state of affairs was not the fault of ASM.
"I believe ASM [members] have done everything in their power in this election to do the best job," Berquam said. "They did everything they could."
The election commission will meet again today at 6 p.m. to continue to discuss how to remedy the situation.
Though many during Wednesday's meeting doubted it, Tayack said he was confident the election commission would get the elections completed in time.
"We will because we have to," Tayack said.