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Digital campus surveys contain security flaws

 

Student voting for Outstanding Senior Man and Woman closed on Sunday night, but sources told The Collegian that the voting website might have skewed the results by allowing for discrepancy in the outcome.

“It just goes to show that our school is not on the cutting edge of technology,” said a student ITS employee who asked to remain anonymous. “And as much as we would like to think that this is Hillsdale College, you know we’re all still human — just as flawed as the next person.”

The student said the online voting process through Survey Monkey, a voting website, has two major glitches: the site does not require ID verification, and by clearing the Internet History cache, people could clear their cookie — or tracking — file, allowing them to vote again.

“Anyone could vote, and they could vote as many times as they want,” the student said. “I do know that some juniors voted, and I definitely tried to see if it would let me vote twice. It didn’t ask you who you are; just clear your cache, and vote again.”

An email containing the link to vote was sent only to students with senior standing — all 568 of them — but that allowed recipients who are not graduating this spring to still vote or forward the email to other juniors, sophomores, and freshmen to vote.

One junior student with senior standing said he voted anyway.

“I think they just looked at how many credits I had and included me in the senior class’ email because of that. I voted because I sensed the voting system was flawed — with me getting an email and all. It was mischievous of me, and I probably shouldn’t have done it.”

Director of Career Services Joanna Wiseley, the advisor to the class of 2012, said that she and the officers decided to switch the voting to Survey Monkey this year and pay for the service.

The college also used Survey Monkey to select the winner for the senior class T-shirt design competition. Senior Design Editor Bonnie Cofer — the winner of the competition — said she noticed the polling site allowed for repeated voting.

“I think it’s unfair and that bothers me. I don’t feel like it was a fair win,” Cofer said. “The fact that I know the system was abused in that instance, makes me concerned that similar things might have happened in other voting processes with the same website. I wish that they would either go back to voting on paper ballots or use an online system that required you to sign in. With the system they are using now, they are just asking for someone to abuse it.”

Wiseley said she understood that others could vote if they received the link, but she hoped it would not come to that. Nevertheless, she did not see any discrepancies in the results.

There are 374 members of the senior class and 305 votes were submitted.

“I did not notice anything out of the ordinary,” Wiseley said. “There were way less responses than there were members of the class. The voting was really even. It was a really good cross-section and the numbers were really well dispersed. So it would indicate to me that there was not a conspiracy.”

“The bottom line is it is just the top three and I think they are all great candidates, and the faculty makes the final decision.”

Wiseley was not able to view who voted, but she was able to see the IP address of each vote. Although she said she did not see repeat votes, the senior officers may decide to return to ballot voting.

“Maybe we will do a ballot,” Wiseley said. “We just thought we would get more response if we didn’t do it at the Grewcock Student Union and polled whoever came to lunch that day. I just didn’t like that. [The issue] is on our agenda for our next senior officer meeting and their recommendation is that they will take it forward to the next class, the class of 2013.”

Seniors Nate Jebb, James Manion, Clint Westbrook, and Ryon Wiska represent the men – there are four nominees because Wiseley did not see a good breaking point in the results. Seniors Brittany Baldwin, Dina Farhat, and Kelsey Shunk were nominated for the women.

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