Vexed votes

Nearly 6,000 students missed in referendum email

Voting was extended by one day as a result of the email error.
Voting was extended by one day as a result of the email error.

A technical error has postponed voting for the Fall Referendum by a day, pushing back the release of the results.

According to AMS chief returning officer Chris Parker, 6,000 email ballot logins weren’t sent because of an error with Votenet, the software behind the online voting system.

Parker said the problem originated due to a miscommunication between the Office 365 email server and Votenet.

“Votenet and the Office 365 were supposed to be compatible and they just didn’t work,” Parker, ArtSci ’15, said.

In total, 21,000 emails of the 27,000 sent made it through.

The emails that didn’t arrive at their recipient have been re-sent, Parker said.

Queen’s IT and AMS employees worked on the problem on Wednesday night and into Thursday morning, he said, until they found a solution.

He said the emails were sent through a Microsoft server, which began identifying emails sent by his account as spam.

“It saw that my CRO email account was trying to send 27,000 emails over about four hours,” Parker said.

“It decided that was considered spam and it blocked them after 21,000.”

The AMS has no experience using Outlook 365 for referendums and elections, he said.

“We had absolutely no preparation for an issue like this, because the system always lets us do it,” he said.

Parker said he reported the error to the Queen’s and AMS IT Services when some emails bounced back to his account at 7 a.m. Tuesday, he said.

However, he added that the delay may encourage a higher voter turnout.

“It’s definitely generated controversy,” he said.

“More people have heard about the elections than they would have.”

The online system is still the best way to conduct referendums and elections, he said, because it provides access to the voting polls at all times.

“A lot of students are very busy and can’t make it at certain times at certain places,” he said.

“With the paper ballot system, we can’t have people man the booth at 4 a.m.”

Kristen Olver, commissioner of internal affairs, said the delay is unlikely to affect election results, since every student will still be receiving referendum emails.

Olver said last year’s elections team was unsure whether the ballots would be compatible with Microsoft Outlook 365.

“So this year, everything was set in place, and when we went they inexplicitly bounced back,” Olver, ArtSci ’15, said.

She said the system has never encountered a problem like it before, which made it difficult to foresee.

“The issues surrounding elections are all related to IT things that were out of our control,” she said.

Last year Queen’s and AMS IT Services also guaranteed the AMS that they would work to make Votenet compatible with Queen’s email service, she said, so they weren’t anticipating any issues.

Queen’s IT, Microsoft’s IT Services, and Votenet have all been cooperative, and no one in particular is to blame, Olver said.

However, she said the AMS will work to make sure similar glitches don’t happen during the winter referendum.

“The main thing is going over and making sure we have down exactly what happened in the system last week,” she said.

The AMS’s contract with Votenet ends on August 2014, she added, and the AMS elections team will be undertaking a formal review of different programs that could be used for elections going forward.

“It’s not only just for voter turnout and participation. We just want to make sure that anyone can access the system,” Olver said.


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