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ACS News

September 19, 2005
Volume 83, Number 38
p. 46


Internet Voting An Option In ACS Races

Valerie J. Kuck, Chair, Committee On Nominations & Elections


For the first time, ACS members will have the option this fall of voting for president-elect and other members of the board of directors either using the traditional paper ballot or electronically over the Internet. In a 2003 survey of ACS members, 63% of those responding indicated that they would be more likely to vote if electronic balloting was available. So, the Committee on Nominations & Elections (N&E) proposed changes to the constitution and bylaws that permitted e-balloting. The council approved the changes, and they were subsequently approved by the broader membership and confirmed by the board of directors.

Last year N&E established a task force to oversee the selection of a vendor that could manage a hybrid election, one using both electronic and paper ballots, for governance elections. Potential vendors needed to be experienced in conducting hybrid elections for nonprofit associations similar to ACS. They were required to propose models for conducting hybrid elections for president-elect, district directors, and directors-at-large that would ensure accuracy, a fair balloting process open to all eligible members, voter anonymity, protection against fraudulent balloting, ballot archiving, and timely reporting of the balloting results.

The task force was particularly concerned about security. Each vendor had to provide an encrypted transaction site that preserved voter anonymity while providing an audit trail in case of a contested election. Toward this end, most vendors proposed assigning to each member a randomly generated unique personal identification number (PIN) that was improbable to guess and unknown to the society. When a member voted electronically, the vendor would be required to authenticate the ACS membership number with the PIN. Immediately after the vote had been submitted, the vendor would break the association between the ACS member number and PIN. Vendors were also asked to describe their customer support services for assisting members experiencing difficulties voting online or for replacing misplaced ballots and generating new PINs while deactivating old ones.

It is up to you to voice your confidence in the new election system. Please exercise your right to vote!

The task force also examined the capacity of prospective vendors to coordinate Internet and paper balloting. For example, we wanted both paper and e-ballots to have similar color schemes and layouts and access to the same candidate biographies. In addition, the task force wanted the candidate names, which would be rotated to remove bias, to be in the same order on both a member's Internet and paper ballot. We also thought that online voters should be given error prompts to signal when too many candidates had been selected, and have the opportunity to review their choices before voting and to print a copy of their confirmed ballot.

The vendors were asked to describe how they would detect and address inadvertent submission by a member of both paper and electronic ballots. Previously, the committee had agreed that only the votes on the first ballot received by the vendor would be added to the candidate totals. Most of the vendors proposed affixing a bar code to the paper ballot that could be scanned and compared against a database of members who had already voted over the Internet.

The task force asked the vendors to present the design for a ballot that would be used in preferential elections and another containing multiple slates for members in the various districts. The vendors were asked to explain how they secured their websites against power outages and intrusions such as hacking and viruses, and about their compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (Section 508) for online balloting. They also had to provide information on how they would check for the accuracy of their counting procedures and how they would manage separate elections for local sections and divisions. In addition, the vendors were asked to describe the actions they would use to increase the percentage of members voting, especially by Internet.

During the election period, the vendor will be required to keep confidential the running-total counts for the ballots received and the votes cast for any candidate. The vendor will also be required to set aside all paper ballots where the intent of the voter was not clear. After the close of the election period, and in the presence of candidate representatives and ACS staff, members of N&E will resolve any questionable ballots.

On the basis of meeting our expectations and requirements, the vendor we selected is VR Election Services (VRES) of Carrollton, Texas. Recently, the task force conducted a mock election over the Internet, and there was 100% agreement between the totals reported to us by the vendor and the votes cast.

A special effort will be made to reach those members affected by Hurricane Katrina so they may cast a valid ballot in this fall's election. We project that by the time this issue of Chemical & Engineering News reaches your mailbox, no more than a few hundred members and fewer than 10 councilors will be in problematic postal areas. If you or someone you know has not received a ballot by Oct. 10, a replacement can be sent to an alternate address by contacting VRES. Customer service will be available at (800) 218-4026, Monday through Friday, between 8:30 AM and 5 PM CST.

In a few days, you will be receiving a paper ballot containing your membership number, your unique PIN, candidate biographies and statements, and simple instructions on how to vote by mail or by Internet. N&E has taken great care to ensure confidentiality and accuracy during the balloting process; now it is up to you to voice your confidence in the new election system. Please exercise your right to vote!

Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of the ACS Board.

Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
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