To Lick It or Click It: That is the Question

Standards and Practices Committee Chair
execExecutive Director

In Fall 2010 delegates adopted Resolution 1.04 F10 asking the Executive Committee to explore using technology in hopes of improving our spring session elections process. The Standards and Practices Committee discussed the Senate’s election process and offers this article as information about why technology cannot be used in the Senate’s election process.

Like any public election, our process needs to be validated and show proof that those who voted were eligible to vote. Similar to the process used for all general voting in America even when they are using technology to accept and count votes, the Senate requires a written signature on each ballot. So the act of getting a delegate signature for each vote cast must still occur, which is the part of the election process that is most time consuming. Currently, available technology does not lend itself to accomplishing this validation process without human verification.

Unlike general elections, however, the Senate’s elections are interdependent, where prior elections determine the candidate slate for subsequent elections (called “trickle down”); thus, normal anonymous one-time/one-sheet voting methods used on voting day are not possible.

The Committee considered available technology including clickers, scantron forms, texting devices, as well as other official voting devices. Obviously there is a significant cost associated with some of these options, where others might rely upon our delegates to self-provide. But the question becomes one of how we ensure each delegate has such a device and that the device can be used in a timely manner. Other technical snafus that can occur, and add workload to staff, are things like failing batteries in the clickers. If this happens midday, the user may never realize his/her vote is not being counted.

The other factor limiting us is not having dedicated facilities. Many board rooms, Congress, etc., have fixed facilities with voting technology built in and a budget to support all that. We, on the other hand, must remain portable, as would the technologies we use, and we have a budget that barely supports the use of white paper and a dash of toner.

Even with the limitations of technology, using technology would only reduce the time it takes to count votes, which is not the part that is time consuming, given the total pool of 125 or so delegates and half of the elections being ½ or ¼ of that. Assuring validation while keeping the actual ballots anonymous is what takes time.

Another observation is that there has only been one, possibly two elections that ran beyond the resolution voting period. Since that time our process was changed so that we now run elections simultaneously where possible, and this has helped tremendously as has the change to the “pick, lick and stick” ballots.

The other point to reflect on is that there is no evidence that the later elections are being influenced by early departees (e.g., more candidates winning from Areas A and B, or north – since spring sessions are always in the north).

The Standards and Practices Committee also considered if the Senate could use technology for our resolution process. As mentioned above, factors such as failing batteries, training curve for voters and the chair, other technical snafus, distribution of devices and assurance that device holders are delegates and registered attendees all add up to a probably significant block of time just in logistics and function.

So the question is how much time would technology save? Well in typical votes the time it takes a chair to call for ayes and nays is pretty limited. The time it takes for the chair to call for a show of hands (standing) is also fairly limited and gives us a chance to stretch. So it would appear that the only real time saved might be during the serpentine votes, of which we only really have four or five in a more ‘voter-challenged’ session. Thus it is not clear our resolution process would be improved much, in terms of time, by the use of this kind of technology.

In summary, is this is a solution looking for a problem? As many are becoming prolific gadgeteers, where any box with buttons and knobs has to be a good thing and is sure to make life better (and this effect will be magnified if the box has a screen on it or it connects us to something/one), we are becoming culturally fascinated with technology. However, in terms of practical need, at this time it is difficult to establish that any potential improvement by using technology would occur in terms of reduced time and increased accuracy of our election and voting processes.

So, on the question of lick it or click it, stick with lick it… at least for now!