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Harvard Elections Invalidated by Computer Errors


Last week's Harvard University Undergraduate Council general elections have been nullified after multiple glitches in the council's custom voting program left the council with incomplete results.

The election has been rescheduled for Thursday through Saturday of this week.

The nullification is the culmination of a series of problems with the election program, which the council bought three years ago from the Harvard Computer Society for between two and three thousand dollars.

Officials from HCS and the council say that both groups share in the responsibility for the voting failure.

"The Undergraduate Council's election commission takes responsibility, but it was an unforeseeable problem that we couldn't do anything about because of the situation with the computer system that we use," said Noah Z. Seton, co-chair of the election commission. "Better choices could have been made in the past about the system, but at the time of the election nothing could have been done."

HCS President Carl P. Sjogreen said the voting failure was a result of the lack of adequate documentation and support for the program.

"The HCS initially did not deliver a program that was maintainable by the U.C., and the U.C. accepted a program that they knew they could not maintain," Sjogreen said.

The council's original contract with HCS was flawed, Stewart said. It required HCS only to help administer the first two elections. After that the council was on its own - without any documentation of the program's design or past problems.

When problems with the program occurred in past elections, the HCS designers were available to troubleshoot, Cohen said. But the designers graduated last year.

"In past years, the original authors of the program had come in and helped when there were problems, but I gather there were no U.C. people who sat there and took notes," said HCS member Lee D. Feigenbaum, who helped the election commission last week.

"It just didn't occur to anyone that that knowledge needed to get passed on," said council Vice President Samuel C. Cohen.

Troubleshooting was made more difficult because the program was designed to protect privacy and security.

"It's written in a very obscure and multi-layered fashion to avoid tampering with ballots," said council President Beth A. Stewart. "It's hard to find and identify problems."

"Last year when I started running it, it had all been configured," added Cohen, who is responsible for running special elections during the year.

But the general elections - with upwards of 130 candidates campus-wide - caused program flaws to surface.

The election commission's first roadblock occurred a week ago when it could not split student data into the appropriate databases. The election was delayed a day while HCS helped the council write a new program to split the data.

The program then malfunctioned during a test run due to control characters inserted by Pico - the application used to edit the program - according to an election commission statement.

The problems that eventually corrupted the election results did not surface until after the election began.

When voters tried to submit their ballots, they received an error message because the hard drive of the computer running the program was full. This error message prevented voters from submitting their ballots.

It took some time before the complaints about the error message were referred to people who could fix the problem, said Sjogreen, who helped the council throughout the week.

"The problem really came about because the people with the necessary expertise on the U.C. side either never existed or have graduated,"Sjogreen said.

The space crunch was alleviated, but the commission did not know how many ballots had been lost.

"Since these people were entered as having used their eligibility, even though the computer did not record their vote, they were not able to resubmit their ballots when disk space was freed," according to the election commission statement.

Benjamin W. Hulse, co-chair of the election commission last year, said that the original program was a "hodge-podge" which required HCS assistance to run.

"There's no script that lets you go step by step through the program to let you know how to set it up for an election; you need to have an HCS person hanging over your shoulder," Hulse said.

The council's constitution requires it to use the Hare proportional voting system, in which candidates are ranked and votes redistributed as candidates eliminated in a series of run-offs. Stewart said the system is "essentially impossible to [tabulate] by hand." Stewart said she did not know when this system was institutionalized.

The council is working with HCS to fix the program to run the current election, but Stewart said the council would hire someone, not necessarily from HCS, to fundamentally redesign the program before the next election.

"It can be salvaged for the purpose of getting this council elected," Cohen said. "We're having someone come in and really look at the stuff knowing all the different problems we encountered this time."

"The HCS and the U.C. are working together to insure that these next elections proceed flawlessly and that such problems do not occur in the future," Sjogreen said.

This is at least the third election hampered by problems with the HCS program.

In 1995, election results were delayed for 16 hours when the program failed to tally results accurately. In addition, a temporary voting program crash prevented some students from voting.

Last year, a glitch prevented transfer students and some other College students from voting temporarily.

"I am fully confident that we will be able to run the elections on Thursday," Seton said.

[The Harvard Crimson, Sept. 5]

Syracuse hit with harassment suit

Syracuse University has responded to the $762 million sexual harassment lawsuit filed by two former tennis players.

In its official response to the suit, SU confesses to several allegations made by the players - including an admission that head coach Jesse Dwire served alcohol to minors on trips.

Dwire was tried through the university's judicial system in 1996, after former players Dacia Kornechuk and Kirsten Ericson filed a sexual harassment complaint against him.

After a hearing, he was found guilty of verbally harassing players. He was, however, not found guilty of physically harassing players or abusing his position to intimidate or threaten members of the team. Following the hearing, he was suspended without pay during the summer of 1996 for three months.

Kornechuk, a senior, Ericson, a 1998 SU graduate, and their parents filed suit against the university earlier this year, claiming that the university was negligent and manipulative when investigating sexual harassment charges against Dwire.

The Kornechuk and Ericson families maintain that the university manipulated the judicial process and did not complete a thorough investigation of Dwire. The university did not interview former players and controlled the testimony given during the hearing, the families said.

"It wasn't fair and it wasn't just," Kornechuk told The Daily Orange in an Aug. 31 article.

The university's answer to the suit, released earlier this month by university attorney George H. Lowe of Bond, Schoeneck and King, asserts that Dwire did not touch players inappropriately. It denies that Dwire gave Kornechuk unnecessary, sexual massages or that he forced massages on players.

The university does admit that Dwire and assistant coach Robert "Mac" Gifford brought teammates into a hotel room on a tennis trip and served them champagne. The university admits that many of the team's players were under 21 at the time, and that Ericson was 18.

The university also admits that Dwire harassed players by making inappropriate comments to the team, including a discussion about oral sex with Ericson and a sexist speech made to players about the Gap, which Dwire said stood for "Girls are Pathetic," according to players.

The university also admits that Dwire made statements to players, putting a dollar figure on the value of each player's scholarship.

SU denies all accusations regarding physical harassment and maintains that Dwire massaged Kornechuk because of a knee injury that made it impossible for her to play for part of the 1995 season.

But the university admits that Rachel Marcoccia did not receive similar massages from Dwire, even though she had similar injuries.

The university also admits Dwire told Kornechuk she had "nice legs" loud enough for teammates to hear. William J. Dealy, the attorney representing Kornechuk and Ericson, said he is especially concerned that Dwire served his players alcohol, and believes the university should investigate whether Dwire violated the NCAA's policy regarding alcohol consumption.

Rob Edson, SU's director of NCAA athletic compliance, said the NCAA has no specific policy regarding alcohol on trips, but that it could fall under a more vague regulation.

"Out of the manual's 500 pages, there is no specific bylaw on alcohol," Edson said. He said when the university knows of a possible athletic violation, it investigates the matter and informs the NCAA. He refused to comment on whether the university is currently investigating Dwire for violations.

The sexual harassment suit will go to trial at the end of January and will be heard by the U.S. District Court in New York State's Southern District.

[The Daily Orange, Sept. 5]