TCU Senate uses new voting process

09/26/2017 - Medford/ Somerville, MA - Malachy Donovan, a class of 2019 representative for TCU Senate, has been leading the collaboration between TCU Senate and the Tufts administration to introduce the new voting system 'Voatz.' (Seohyun Shim / The Tufts Daily)

Students were able to vote in the Tufts Community Union (TCU) elections using Voatz, a new mobile election voting platform, for this first time this fall. This marks a shift from the eBallot system used in years past, which some students described as too difficult and time-consuming to use. 

According to Malachy Donovan, services committee chair on TCU Senate, the new system, which can be accessed via mobile app or by following a link on a computer, has already dramatically increased voter turnout. He emphasized that the previous voting software was acting as a barrier to some students voting.

“You had to log onto SIS, then click a tab that said WebCenter [under Student Living], then scroll down, click ‘Vote,’ be redirected to another page and in the end it turned out to be maybe a five-step process,” Donovan, a junior, said.

Senators and students who ran for office in the past noted that communicating this process to students, either through Facebook posts or in person, caused confusion and likely lowered voter turnout, Donovan said. In some elections, as little as 10 percent of the student body was participating in elections, according to junior Klavs Takhtani, the Tufts Community Union Elections Commission (ECOM) chair.

Takhtani mentioned that for some students, refraining from voting was likely an issue of time-commitment rather than apathy.

“If I wasn’t in student government, I don’t know if I’d go through that whole process, either,” Takhtani said.

With the new voting software, students can vote in three ways: using the Voatz mobile app, using a direct link to a URL or using tablets provided in the Mayer Campus Center.

The Voatz company is cheaper than eBallot, Takhtani said, and by his account, provided better customer service than eBallot.

“We met with [Voatz] and thought their platform was really great, and they also seemed really passionate about the idea,” Donovan said.

Perhaps due to this new voting system, voter turnout among all grades increased from the last election, according to Donovan. Recently elected TCU Senator Janey Litvin, a first-year, along with Donovan and Takhtani, pointed out that first-years historically vote in the highest numbers; this year 52 percent of first-years voted in the fall election.

Takhtani said that he hopes easier methods of voting will incentivize the Class of 2021 to set a trend of higher voter turnout among all grades.

Litvin and Takhtani also said communicating the voting process earlier could increase voter turnout. Takhtani went on to explain that getting the word out about Voatz was difficult during this election season simply because TCU Senators and ECOM members were new to the platform themselves.

TCU Senator Sharif Hamidi advertised the various avenues through which students could vote.

“Specifically for my campaign, I made sure people were aware that they had multiple avenues of voting,” Hamidi, a first-year, said. “I’m very appreciative of the fact that ECOM has gone out of their way to maximize the number of ways people can vote.”

Hamidi, Donovan and Takhtani all supported having tablets in other high-density areas on campus during the next election, such as Dewick-MacPhie and Carmichael Dining Centers, and the Tisch Library.

Litvin noted the most popular and straightforward way to vote appeared to be the using the link. 

The project to revamp the voting software was not a short one. According to Donovan, conversations about working with Voatz began last March and involved many parts of the Tufts administration, including TCU Senate, ECOM, the Office for Campus Life and Tufts Technology Services.

Donovan added that the process is still not finished, saying there is still work to be done on updating the mobile app.

During this recent election, the app was not fully ready, and Donovan expressed his interest in continuing to work with Voatz to finalize the app and make it more user-friendly for Tufts students. He hopes that in coming elections, more students will use the app to vote.

“In the future, we would love to have students all on one platform so that we can do polling, just to make Senate more transparent and get more voices into the mix,” Donovan said.

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