Why would you fix a meaningless election?
May 16, 2017 4:51 AM   Subscribe

I'm the outgoing President of a small student club that is part of a small post-graduate faculty at a large University. Imagine something in the vein of "First Generation Medical Students Club" or "Korean American MBA Students Association". I recently ran an election for my replacement. One of the candidates has probably attempted to fix the election, though they were unsuccessful. What now?

The election was conducted via internet poll, with a link sent to all of the current members of the club. They were asked to provide a piece of identifying information that is part of our membership list and their vote for a new President.

Before I announced the results, I cross-checked the information provided in the survey with our membership lists. Several of the votes were not members of our club. It was never even my intention to cross-match the identifying information with the actual votes, although it was possible by viewing each survey response individually. All of the non-member votes were for the same candidate.

I thought perhaps the candidate had attempted to drum up support by posting the link on Facebook and asking friends to vote in their favour, which would have been poor form, but perhaps not unexpected in the social media era. The identifying information does appear to match up with students in our program, just not members of our particular club.

However, all of those votes came from IP addresses associated with a particular University on a completely different continent than the one the election was for. Although there is the most miniscule possibility that all of these people are students from our school doing some kind of exchange program at that school this summer and their votes were requested, the much, much more likely situation is that the candidate is visiting that school at this time and cast the votes from there. The candidate's own vote came from an IP at the same foreign school.

The candidate did not win, despite the apparent cheating, so this had no effect on the ultimate outcome.

So, I'm left with this situation that only I have knowledge of, that had no actual impact. But we're studying to be part of a profession where personal responsibility and honesty are pretty important, so the idea that someone would attempt to fix this election and just get away with it (other than that they still lost) is kind of icky. Compounding the ickiness is that non-successful candidates for President are still named to the overall executive team for the club, so the candidate would still be involved.

Some options I'm considering:
Confronting the candidate with this information and seeing what the response is. Perhaps encouraging them to step down from the executive as a whole.
Seeking advice from a member of the larger student government for our faculty, which oversees the clubs, to see what they think should be done if anything.
Seeking advice from someone in the administration at our school about what they think should be done, if anything.
Ignoring it completely, since it didn't affect the outcome of this election.

Consulting with the current executive of the club is also possible, but may be difficult, because some of them are candidates in this same election, although none of them are either the candidate who appears to have cheated or the actual winner. I could just reach out to some members of the exec who were not running again this year.

Although there is nowhere in our student handbook at either the faculty or university level that explicitly says "Thou shalt not fix student elections" there are several broader rules about not misrepresenting yourself and not interfering with the operation of student activities that might make this a Code of Conduct violation -- and that has a whole formal complaint process. However, navigating through the complaint process is not something I have time for, and it might lead to problems with the candidate eventually joining our intended profession, which seems like too big of a consequence for such a pissant thing, no matter how aggravating it is.

Aside from lying awake all night trying to figure out the best solution to this problem, what should I be doing?
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (16 answers total)
In my opinion, presenting your findings to the member/s of student government that oversees the clubs is both appropriate and necessary. To you this seems inconsequential, but perhaps it is part of a larger pattern of unscrupulous behavior by this candidate that you are not aware of, so this instance needs to be documented.
posted by ejs at 5:30 AM on May 16, 2017 [24 favorites]

If you don't have time to follow a formal process it sounds like you don't have the time to conduct the due diligence that would be required to justify making a public accusation or justify non-publicly spreading suspicion.

I mean, the IP address evidence seems significant, but if you're asking what motive your suspect themselves would've had to fix a meaningless election, it doesn't seem as though your investigation can have fully analyzed why anyone else would have done so either.

Maybe the thing to do is prepare a report and deposit it with the current executive or some other trustworthy authority with the note that it may be information worth taking into account in the event of future election irregularities. (Or, to be more fully explored by someone with the time to conduct a formal or professional investigation.)
posted by XMLicious at 5:33 AM on May 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

Did the suspect candidate have access to the list of identifying information? Presumably they knew it could be checked. Rigging an inconsequential election isn't surprising - some people will cheat at anything - but doing it this badly seems weird. Were all the IP addresses the same? If not, that suggests a degree of sophistication incompatible with using non-members as fake names.

Given a choice between conspiracy and idiocy, idiocy seems more likely. I'd guess the candidate asked their suicidal media friends to "vote for me," and a bunch of them did.

In the interest of not wasting your time, I'd let it go and push for individually tagged ballots sent only to members next time.
posted by eotvos at 5:51 AM on May 16, 2017 [3 favorites]

Also, letting the president of am organization read the votes of individual, named members sounds sketchy as hell. (Frankly, more disturbing than a bad attempt at election rigging.) I'd chalk this one up to a badly broken ballot system and vow to fix it.
posted by eotvos at 5:56 AM on May 16, 2017 [11 favorites]

More inexplicable than fixing an inconsequential election is fixing one and losing. Maybe it wasn't the candidate who did it but some acquaintance at the other school who thought it would be amusing if all their friends voted? The candidate might not even be aware of it. Most inexplicable is worrying about an inconsequential possible crime with no real evidence as to who done it.
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:59 AM on May 16, 2017

The only motive I can think of is that being president of such a club might look good on one's resume.
posted by Jon_Evil at 6:16 AM on May 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

People do things because of their emotional and subjective meaning - probably not very much human behaviour can actually be understood as a rational, goal-maximizing activity. The fact that you can't perceive or imagine a goal does not really render something inexplicable; rather, unknown.
posted by thelonius at 6:23 AM on May 16, 2017 [5 favorites]

I agree with thelonius: some people just enjoy the rush of cheating/stealing/snooping/etc. You don't need to worry about that part, and can just focus on whether & how to disclose the fraud to the group.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 6:28 AM on May 16, 2017 [2 favorites]

The election process should be transparent. Just wrap everything up and share it with the current executive. The person who the fix was in for will be on the next executive so any of these are possible:
* They aren't trustworthy and can cause bad blood (been there done that don't want to see it ever again)
* They had no idea and are actually honest but somebody else acted stupidly but may cause them to become suspect
* Who knows?
But unless you are going to sit on this, wipe the data, and are sure nobody will ever ask, then the truth may out. Pass it to the exec committee. That's what they are there for. And, ejs is right, there may be other similar actions which you do not know about.
posted by Gotanda at 6:44 AM on May 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

I was heavily involved with my university's Red Cross club in college. I was on the executive board and devoted many volunteer hours I barely had over my four years. I knew exactly who was in the club and who showed up for what events and meetings because I was at every single one. I understand taking pride in a student group.

In my fourth year when a ton of my peers were applying to med/grad school and passing their applications around to be proofed, woooow did I see a lot of folks listing their volunteer work with the Red Cross club! One guy listing the club was someone I knew from classes, so I asked him about it directly. He just shrugged and said he was on the mailing list, so included it. I was so mad.

Anyway, there's your answer to why. Because saying you're involved, and being able to boast about a board position particularly, looks good on applications. It's frustrating as heck for those of us actually doing the work, but people lie to get ahead and make themselves look good all the time, especially so when it's something high stakes like grad school.

As for what you should do about it, idk man, do whatever will make you feel best. In my situation I just groused about it a lot until I stopped caring about it, and now I really only think about it for situations like this anecdote right here‚Äč, when I look back and think, "oh right, fuck those guys," and then go right back to not caring.

Life is too short to wonder why other people suck.
posted by phunniemee at 6:55 AM on May 16, 2017 [5 favorites]

It sounds to me like there's a good chance the candidate -- rather than casting fake votes -- simply asked other students at the school s/he was visiting to cast a vote for him/her. (Sophisticated enough to switch IP addresses between votes but not sophisticated enough to scatter them further than a single campus?)

In which case there's a bit of ambiguity: Was s/he merely unaware that only current members of your club could vote, or was this actual malfeasance, hoping no one would cross reference the IDs? (Or, even further in the middle, is it possible these non-member voters do match the demographics and field of your club, but simply haven't affirmatively joined the club, in which case it might seem even less odd that the candidate could have thought their votes would be valid.)

Would it be possible to identify at least one of the non-member voters so you can ask them directly?
posted by nobody at 7:40 AM on May 16, 2017

Seek the advice if the larger student government for your faculty.

Normally I might say to just quietly drop the whole cheating possibility, since the person failed to be elected club president. But there's one giant "BUT!" here, and that's the fact that although they failed to be elected president, they DID succeed in being qualified for the club executive board --- without the questionable votes, would they have gotten that? If the answer is no, the questionable votes might not have made them club president but those votes DID get this person into the executive board, then yes I think you really do have to follow this up.

Basically, if their attempt at ballot-box stuffing won them ANYTHING, you should take this to a higher authority.
posted by easily confused at 7:52 AM on May 16, 2017 [5 favorites]

The reason for storing the IP addresses and the piece of identifying information is presumably to have some way to verify the validity of the votes. (Why else are you even ASKING for it?) Presumably, however, without linking that identifying info to the actual vote.

So it seems perfectly reasonable to provide the list of IP addresses & associated bit of identifying information (WITHOUT the info related to the candidate that person actually voted for) along to your executive committee along with your analysis that $X number of these people are not even members of your organization and an analysis of the location of the IP address along with the associated identifying information and your analysis of whether the person was a club member or not.

That in itself is enough to establish:

1. The election had fraudulent votes - a new election system is needed
2. Presumably everyone knows (or could learn) the other campus the one candidate was visiting, so the fact that a whole bunch of non-valid votes came from the same campus is pretty damning evidence in itself.

Also, the purpose of providing the identifying bit of information is presumably to identify which students are in and which are NOT in the club. Since only club members are eligible to vote, it is perfectly justified to re-tally voting totals with all non-authorized votes omitted. I wouldn't do this without consulting/working with the current club executive committee so that they are fully informed and agreeable, but this seems both a reasonable course of action and also a course of action that is by its very nature built right in to the voting system. You're not ganging up on or accusing or anything a certain person of doing anything. Rather you are just disallowing ineligible votes and then proceeding with the results based only on eligible votes. And the system seems to be BE DESIGNED to allow you to do exactly that. So no one should be surprised or amazed or bothered in the slightest when you actually used the submitted voting information for the purpose for which it is intended.

You're also not looking at who anyone voted for as a basis for disallowing their vote. You are simply looking at whether or not they are a club member and disallowing ineligible votes on that basis. Then recalculating the total based on ELIGIBLE votes.
posted by flug at 9:54 AM on May 16, 2017 [4 favorites]

Also if the voting system seems to be working for your except for this one glitch, then maybe the only change to your system you need is that next time around someone will actually verify this bit of identifying info for each voter BEFORE votes are tallied and results announced, and all non-eligible vote removed from the tallies.

You could create a little system for this, where one person (or, better, small groups working together) takes & extracts a list of just the IP & identifying bit of information without the vote itself, a second group examines that information and determines voter eligibility, then returns the list of voters eligible & ineligible to the first group, which then tallies eligible votes & discards ineligible votes.

This seems like a lot of work, but you have a demonstrated problem and this would solve it entirely.
posted by flug at 9:57 AM on May 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

Followup from the OP:
Thanks everyone.

I've decided not to make any kind of public accusation of cheating. I invalidated the votes I could not match against our membership roster, and let the candidates know there were a few invalid votes without further details. Unless anyone protests -- and the only person who could reasonably protest would expose the fact that they cheated by raising a protest -- this will lie where it is.

We don't have a lot of experience running elections in this student group, because our usual method of getting a new Exec in place for the next year is begging and pleading with people to pretty please take on a role. Having enough people interested in a particular role to even require an election has never happened in the three years I have been involved with the club. Even with this election for the main position, we are still one person short of a full complement of Executives, so everyone who ran for President will become a general member of the Executive regardless of how many legitimate votes they received.
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:29 PM on May 16, 2017 [3 favorites]

1: Candidate visits other university as part of an exchange program. (This is known)
2: Candidate asks the other students from his university who are also visiting as part of the same program to vote for him and they do.

This seems like a probable innocent explanation.
Are you sure you don't have some kind of grudge against this person and are just digging for dirt here?
posted by w0mbat at 12:17 PM on May 17, 2017

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