USI Initiate Full Audit after Flaws in Online Voting System

USI Deputy President Colm Murphy

Rónán Burtenshaw

The Union of Students in Ireland (USI)’s online ‘Funding Vote’ has been called into question after it emerged that database errors allowed former and part-time students to vote and some students who had been registered for courses in more than one college to vote more than once. A full audit of the process will be initiated by the USI and carried out by facilitators HEAnet and Edugate after polls close. Trinity College, Dublin, however, does not seem to be affected by the flaws in the system.

Stories began emerging about the problems this morning on social media sites, with anti-fees activists particularly prominent in highlighting them. One online student newspaper, The Student Observer in Maynooth, published a story by a journalist and former NUI Maynooth student Dave Ryan alleging that he had been able to vote despite not being a currently registered student.

Speaking to Trinity News Mr. Ryan said that he had finished his masters programme in NUI Maynooth – where he had previously been an undergraduate – in May, 2011. His article included screenshots of his access to the system, which he said occurred this morning.

On Twitter USI President Gary Redmond responded to a query from Mr. Ryan by saying that the system was “based on, which queries each college’s database.” The student databases were “held by the college,” he continued, “not the USI.”

Another former student, and USI President, Peter Mannion also spoke with this paper to confirm that he had accessed the voting system as a UCD student, despite having already graduated from a part-time postgraduate course he was doing in the college.

Mr. Mannion said “it [was] clear that students who aren’t supposed to [be able] to vote are doing so” and that the process had been called into “disrepute”. He continued that many colleges had kept inaccurate records for years and said the number of ineligible voters taking part in the ITs, which have “a high proportion of part-time students”, could be “huge”.

Further investigation by this paper into voting irregularities produced evidence that the access to the voting system for part-time and alumni students is widespread and three students have come forward to tell us that they accessed the vote in more than one institution – although they were unwilling to be named.

The USI have assured unions that they are working with HEAnet, whose system facilitates the poll, and relevant colleges to find ways to exclude ineligible votes from the final tally. Speaking to Trinity News earlier today USI Deputy President Colm Murphy said that “the individual colleges concerned have confirmed that they will be able to remove the ballots of students who have graduated.”

Mr. Murphy said that a “full audit” of all colleges will take place and that this will be run by HEAnet and Edugate in conjunction with college authorities. When pressed about whether it would be possible for errors in substantial databases to be corrected he conceded that “to a certain extent we’re relying on the colleges” but that those contacted so far had agreed to participate with the audit.

Mr. Murphy said he believed that the problem arose from certain colleges “not keeping their Edugate databases up-to-date” and was keen to emphasise that USI would not have any direct influence on the audit. With USI Special Congress happening next Wednesday he said that he expected the audit to happen “within hours of polls closing”. There was, he confirmed, no chance of any students’ names being associated with how they had voted. Mr. Murphy also guaranteed that “by the end of the process only those eligible will have their votes counted.”

Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) President Ryan Bartlett said that the voting system “had been tested in Trinity” before it went live and didn’t appear to be affected. He said that he was “hoping for a solution” to the problems to emerge from the USI but would be “interested to know” the details should it do so. “It’s still worth Trinity students engaging with the process,” he continued, “because we will get the results for Trinity either way.” He confirmed that TCDSU would look for the results from the vote for TCD even if the national vote has to be abandoned, and that these could “inform policy” in future.

Earlier in the day Lorcan Myles, a former student in NUI Maynooth and UCD, posted an image online of what he claimed was access he had secured to the system’s “back-end” as an administrator. Speaking to Trinity News Mr. Myles was “not willing to say” how he gained access to the page. Responding to the image online Gary Redmond said that it was derived from the “old test site”. He said that it would be “taken down now for the sake of clarity”. The web developer that the USI has worked with on the project has also strongly refuted suggestion that anyone accessed the voting system’s administrator page and stated that safety mechanisms had been put in place to prevent tampering with results.