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On-Line Election Attracts Voters To The Virtual Polls

Dane Erikson and Joey Harris
Exiting president Dane Erikson hands of the presidential gavel to Joey Harris.

February 14, 2001
Contact: Bill Giduz 704/894-2244 or bigiduz@davidson.edu

Photos by Stratton Lawrence '03

Joey Harris, a Columbia, S.C., junior political science major, was elected president of the Student Government Association (SGA) in early February. No one's certain, but it's highly probable that some of his supporters cast their votes in their pajamas!

Harris, Vice President Beth Gardner '03, Union Board President Will Parker '02, United Community Action President Carrie Frazier '02, and about 20 other students gained their new offices in the college's first Internet-based election.

Randy Skattum '01, co-chair of the SGA elections council, said the new method was a "dramatic" success, resulting in a sixty-seven percent increase in voter participation over the corresponding elections last year. Skattum said 910 students voted on the first day of elections (runoffs were on a second day), and last year's figure was 595. He said the advantages of Internet voting include convenience for voters, extended polling hours, instant results, elimination of the need to staff polling places and count ballots, and the ease with which off-campus students can participate.

Dane Erikson and Beth Gardner
Erikson swears in new vice president, Beth Gardner.

The "polls" were open from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m., and students voted at their convenience by accessing the voting Web site from any computer anywhere in the world. Ruth Bratton, director of administrative computing, worked with the elections council to write a set of programs using active server pages (ASP) and an SQL server database. The system also made use of Windows NT authentication, requiring voters to log in to their network account with their username and password before they could access the ballot page. The system prevents multiple votes by the same person, and includes a web page that displays results as soon as the polls close.

Now that the up-front programming work has been done, running future elections will be a simple matter of filling in new candidate names. "It's a great system," said Skattum. "There would be a lot of obstacles to implementing it on a national basis, but it could have eliminated a lot of the problems we had in the presidential election!"

Harris has been an active member of the SGA since his freshman year. His previous posts include vice president, senator, and class president his freshman and sophomore years. He is also a member of the college's trustee committee on academic and educational policy. As a Bonner Service Scholar at Davidson, Harris does volunteer tutoring for the Ada Jenkins After School Program, and volunteers for Legal Aid Services of the Southern Piedmont, a program that helps represent victims of unfair eviction and domestic violence in court.

Vice president Gardner is a deejay for the student radio station WALT 1610. She is also a member of the Davidson College dance troupe, Interfaith, and the College Union Artists Series committee.

Davidson is a highly selective independent liberal arts college for 1,600 students. Since its establishment in 1837, the college has graduated 23 Rhodes Scholars and is consistently ranked among the top liberal arts colleges in the country by U.S. News and World Report magazine. Davidson recently launched "Let Learning Be Cherished," a $250 million campaign in support of student financial assistance, academic resources, and community life.

Sga group shot
The Davidson College Student Government Association.

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