This past week an undetected computer glitch came very close to disrupting the Yale College Council election’s online voting process, which is being hosted by YaleStation.org.
Voting for YCC representatives is supposed to be a relatively simple process. Students just log on to www.yale.edu/ycc/vote, type in their NetID and password, and pick candidates. Last Monday and Tuesday, however, many undergraduates — and YCC officer candidates — were disappointed to find that the Web site had malfunctioned and left voters unable to register their choices successfully.
“I went to vote on the Web site Monday, and it just wouldn’t let me vote,” Laura Runnels ’04 said. “I kept getting an error message about not having registered through YaleStation.org, even though I had already registered. It took two more days for my vote to finally go through.”
The problem that Runnels encountered was typical, said YaleStation.org president Alexander Clark ’04 — she was attempting to cast her vote at the same time that more than 75 other students were voting. Theoretically, there is no limit to how many people can vote online at once, Clark said. But a bug in the Microsoft server software program used for the voting process caused a drastic change. Instead of allowing an unlimited number of simultaneous logons, the bug set a limit of 75 logons at any one time.
“At first we were unaware that the bug existed,” Clark said. “But once we discovered the problem Monday night at 6 p.m., we starting working on it immediately. As a result, no problems have been reported with the system since Tuesday at 7 p.m.”
Anyone who voted last Monday afternoon at approximately 4 p.m. was particularly likely to experience problems because at that time, YCC Vice President Leah Zimmerman had just sent out a campus wide e-mail encouraging everyone to vote.
Last year students cast their votes for the YCC election through the Pantheon server, but the YCC discovered several problems with the server and decided to switch to YaleStation.org this year.
“The Pantheon voting system had a lot of security loopholes in it,” said Clark. “In addition, many of this year’s freshman only use Yale Webmail and probably haven’t even heard of Pantheon, much less have the software to run it on their computers. YaleStation.org, on the other hand, is a Web site so it’s more accessible to everyone.”
Several candidates running for YCC positions expressed disappointment with YaleStation.org’s handling of the voting process.
“I got a lot of negative feedback about YaleStation.org from people who voted for me,” said Ames Brown ’02, a candidate for Undergraduate Organizations Funding Committee chair. “People come up to me on the street all the time and tell me they don’t like that YaleStation asked them for personal information when they were just trying to vote. Even though the questions are optional, it’s still wrong to ask for all that unnecessary information.”
Some students who voted expressed concerns that their information was sold to companies without their permission. The reason for this concern was an e-mail that was automatically sent by YaleStation.org to every student who voted. The e-mail thanked the students for registering with YaleStation and “affiliated services.”
Other information the site requests, such as mobile phone number and on-line messenger screen name, is added to students’ online phone listings.
“All I did was vote, and then I got some e-mail saying that I had registered for some services I was unaware of,” Amber Wheeler ’03 said. “The first thing I thought was that they sold my name to a bunch of e-mail lists, which I definitely would prefer not to be on.”
The e-mail, it turns out, was an outdated welcoming to students who had signed up for YaleStation.org. Students who voted were not added to any unwanted e-mail lists, but because YaleStation uses the same authentication process for the election system as it uses for people who do sign up for its services, voters also mistakenly receive the e-mail, Clark said.
“Users that have been authenticated for the voting process do not have any unsolicited accounts,” Clark said. “They should know that the e-mail is outdated and that they will not receive anymore e-mails from YaleStation or be subscribed to any mailing lists.”