The system behind the vote
March 13, 2013
The faculty involved in the no-confidence vote are protecting the secrecy of their ballots through digital encryption. For the first time, university faculty are using an electronic voting system known as Helios Voting to secure their ballot system.
The electronic ballot was opened to 682 FAS faculty members, tenured and on the tenure track, on Monday, March 11.
Behind the technology’s development and setup is cryptographer and Harvard Medical school faculty member Ben Adida. At NYU, Faculty Council chair Jim Uleman has lead the setup and mediation of the vote.
“The Helios Voting System is the most advanced and secure online voting system available,” Uleman said.
“Once you vote, your vote in encrypted before it is sent to Helios over the Internet, so that even if someone intercepted it, it would be illegible. Votes are tallied without ever de-encrypting individual votes, so no one can discover how anyone voted.”
Physics professor Allen Mincer and chemistry professor Neville Kallenbach were assigned as administrators to help voters with troubleshooting while anthropology professor Susan Anton and Spanish and Portuguese professor Jo Labanyi were appointed voting trustees responsible for ensuring anonymity.
“There have been some small problems: some people needing help using the system, some not getting the ballot in the first email, a couple of errors in email addresses, but on the whole things have been running quite smoothly,” Mincer said.
Computer science professor Ernest Davis said that gathering and formatting the list of emails that would receive e-ballots has proved the most difficult.
“The sticking point on any web-based voting system is getting a good list of email addresses,” Davis said. “In general, whether Helios … is suitable for an election depends on whether the voters can be counted on to be able to get email and vote on the web and whether a good list of email addresses can be obtained.”
The vote ends this Friday at 6 p.m.
Emily Bell is a deputy city/state editor. Hanqing Chen is web managing editor. Amy Zhang is managing editor. Email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.