We’re getting down to the wire — polls open noon UTC 16 November (check the time in your area) and close 48 hours later, at noon UTC 18 November (check the time in your area) — just enough time for one last peek behind the scenes!
Yesterday’s post explaining how the OTW uses a modified version of Instant Runoff Voting to determine multiple winners with a single ballot focused on the technology and how the results are determined once the election period is complete. But our election is far from an instant process; we’ve implemented procedures surrounding that technology to assure that those results are verifiable, that there are multiple corroborating sources to disallow any possibility of tampering, and that we have created an audit trail.
The OTW’s Elections committee, active throughout the 2008 and 2009 terms, felt that was important; not because they felt there was a danger of tampering, but because we, as an organization, should be able to assure our members with full confidence that their votes are being handled with care and respect. After all, we are an organization founded by fans, run by fans, and working in the interests of fans; our Board elections are one of the many ways that our members guide us.
Today we offer a peek at what the staff members tasked with elections work have been doing over the past weeks, and how they will be spending the next few days.
First — who are these people? Well, the elections process requires that we fill several roles. Candidates! They’re pretty important, and they’ve been working hard throughout the candidacy period to share their vision while simultaneously carrying out their regular work load for the OTW. But you know about them already (if you don’t, please peruse all of our Elections posts, or visit the Candidate Information page!) The next role that’s vital to the process is the Elections Officer — this year, that’s Board member Ira Gladkova. They are appointed by the Board at the beginning of the term, and they work throughout the year to prepare, to talk with potential candidates, and to make certain that we are hitting all of our marks according to the Elections Timeline. The Elections Officer is also responsible for making all elections announcements, for clarifying policy to our members, and for working with the OTW’s Legal team in case of questions that go beyond policy. The Elections Officer also fields questions from voters, and makes certain that any questions of eligibility are resolved as soon as possible. (Contact the Elections Officer here.)
So those are the visible people. But we have more! Not many more, in order to protect donor confidentiality, but a few. Our trusty Systems committee, for example, will be watching our website traffic to make sure that the Elections site stays accessible, and to address any slowdowns if they happen.
The last roles involved are filled by two members from our Webmasters committee. The OTW Webmasters all work on the Elections website until it’s time to lock it up securely — that’s a minimum of two weeks out from the election — and up until then, they apply updates, double-check software, and conduct rigorous tests of both the ballot and the ballot tallying. At two weeks before the election, the Elections site is locked down. All existing site accounts (including those belonging to all other staff) are deleted, leaving only two. Those two then create the ballot according to the Elections Officer’s instructions. In that next week, the OTW Development & Membership committee delivers a list of eligible voters to the Elections officer, as a list of email addresses only, dropped in the OTW’s secure file vault. Half of the list is then deposited into each of the elections Webmasters’ vault spaces, and they begin to create the voting accounts. In order to create them, they use random.org to generate an 8-digit random number to use as an account name, and pair it with a voter email address. No list is created of these accounts, and no record of which number goes with which email is easy to generate. It’s not impossible! Just too much trouble for someone to do accidentally. All of these accounts are created as inactive, which becomes important in the next step.
The first big milestone that impacts the elections Webmasters is one week prior to the voting period; that’s when all of our voters get their informational email, including their account information, a link that will lead to the ballot once it goes live, and a basic outline of how the process will work. The text of that email is created by the Elections Officer, and the elections Webmasters enter the text as an automatic website message that is triggered by account activation. At the one week mark, all accounts are activated, sending out those messages.
The next week allows us to address any emails that went astray and correct them before voting day. (This year we had a few sbcglobal emails disappear without a trace — we think we’ve heard from everyone who might have had that problem, but if you think you didn’t get your email, contact the Elections Officer!) The elections Webmasters also make any necessary edits or additions to the Elections site, since they are the only ones with access — like the Candidate Profiles that were posted recently, and all elections-related news posts.
On the day the election opens, the elections Webmasters change the automatic account activation message to new text that announces that the ballot is open, and contains all necessary voting information. Then, just before the ballot becomes active (it’s on an automatic timer) they trigger the email message to all voters by deactivating all voter accounts, and then reactivating them.
The elections Webmasters split the 48-hour voting period into four hour shifts, each taking six. Each shift means that person is “on duty” — they are ready to troubleshoot any account access problems the Elections Officer contacts them about, and they also help to create that audit trail. At the end of each four-hour shift, the Webmaster on duty takes a screenshot of all ballot results as of that moment, zips the resulting images, and drops them into the Election Officer’s vault space. All results are capped each time, meaning that any changes to existing votes would be apparent in the case of examination. Both are on duty for the final shift, and both make separate screenshot packages and deposit them in the vault.
Once the ballot has closed, the Elections Officer communicates the results to the candidates and to the voters, and posts them publicly. If any candidate chooses to question the result, the screenshots made throughout the process in the web administrative interface would be examined and recounted, as well as potentially corroborated with information from the Systems committee.
We like to think knowledge is power! Or at least we think that our voters would like to know what’s happening behind the scenes! We hope this has answered a few questions. Happy voting!