At Last Minute, Council Puts Voting on Hold

Dean's security concerns stall new Web-based election system

Undergraduate Council elections, slated to begin at 12:01 this morning, have been postponed indefinitely following the College administration’s decision to pull the plug on the council’s new Web-based voting system.

Associate Dean of the College David P. Illingworth ’71 vetoed the plans only hours before the election was scheduled to begin, said council President Sujean S. Lee ’03.

According to Lee, Illingworth was concerned that the confidential student information required to allow students to vote on the Web-based system would have been stored on a non-Harvard server that might have been susceptible to hacking.

The council’s voting website, www.ucelections.org, was set to replace “ucvote,” the telnet-based system that the council has used in recent years.

Illingworth’s decision was followed by frenetic late-hour attempts by council members to create a procedure that would allow the elections to proceed with minimal delay.

Shortly after 1 a.m., Lee sent a message to the council’s open e-mail list, saying that elections would proceed via “a slightly different system” than the one planned.

“Each student will receive an e-mail today containing a unique link that will enable that individual, and only that individual, to vote once in his/her election,” Lee’s e-mail read. “Voting will proceed as planned through this Thursday.”

But about one hour later, Lee sent another message to the list.

“We have made every effort to develop this new voting system, but in order for it to proceed, we will have to await final approval from the Administration in the morning,” Lee wrote.

The original delay was caused by Illingworth and other administrators’ concerns that sensitive data—including students’ identification numbers—would be hosted on servers unaffiliated with the University, according to Lee.

“Dean Illingworth was afraid the registrar’s information would not be secure,” Lee said. “Dean Illingworth said we couldn’t go ahead with the elections if registrar data were made available on a non-Harvard server.”

Illingworth could not be reached for comment late last night after Lee’s e-mails were sent.

Council Technology Coordinator Jared S. Morgenstern ’03—who helped to write the new voting program—said he and Lee decided not to go forth with the emergency voting system because they had not received permission from administrators to send an e-mail to every undergraduate.

“This is the dilemma I face: Do I spam 6,000 people in order to make the UC elections work?” Morgenstern said. “I decided to wait.”

When asked earlier in the night if she was worried about facing disciplinary action for violating the College’s spamming rules, Lee said the final decision to go ahead with the mass e-mail would be Morgenstern’s, not her own.

Lee expressed dismay over the late notice the council received from the administration that the elections could not proceed as planned, arguing that administrators were kept informed of the council’s efforts throughout the summer.

“They waited until this past week to voice these concerns, giving us very, very little time to address them,” Lee said.

Morgenstern said the administration’s final decision “hit the time horizon a little bit late,” but he also said that “the College did try.”

Morgenstern said he and Lee will attempt to gain administrative approval—from University President Lawrence H. Summers, if necessary—to proceed with their back-up voting system and send out e-mails to all students.

“The game plan is, tomorrow [Tuesday], to talk to President Summers,” he said. “If we did get the okay tomorrow, we’d act as if [the elections] started on Tuesday, even though people couldn’t vote at that time.”

—Staff writer Alexander J. Blenkinsopp can be reached at blenkins@fas.harvard.edu.