OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

OSU student voting marks turnaround in campus elections

03/05/1999

CORVALLIS - Oregon State University student elections posted two firsts on Thursday - the first African American presidential ticket ever elected in the school's history and the first OSU student election carried out entirely on the World Wide Web.

Melanie Spraggins and Joshua Stroud, both juniors, won the campus-wide election for the posts of Associated Students of OSU president and vice president with 878 votes, topping candidates Cory VanAlstine and Justin Roach by 111 votes, said Paul Evans, ASOSU student advocate.

"We set some milestones with this election," Spraggins said after hearing the election results Thursday night. "We're the first black ticket to run and win at OSU and this is the first online election."

Spraggins, a graduate of Troutdale's Reynolds High School, is OSU's second black woman elected to the ASOSU president's post, following April Waddy, who was elected in 1994.

"I'm the first black male ever," Stroud said.

Spraggins, the current student body vice president, downplayed the influence of race in the election. "We had the better platform to represent all students," she said. "We didn't try to single out any one specific group or groups."

"The bottom line is, we had the better platform and we worked harder to win this election," Stroud said. A management information systems major, Stroud is a graduate of the Pilgrim School, a private preparatory school established in Los Angeles by the First Congregational Church.

Spraggins and Stroud will take office in May.

All the candidates expressed mixed emotions about carrying out the election on the World Wide Web. Web voting started on Tuesday, March 2, and continued non-stop through 6 p.m. Thursday.

Except for a few initial glitches, the "VoteNet" student election program went smoothly, said Adam Yarnold, an OSU student who directed the campus technical team that created the voting program. Results were available within two hours after polls closed.

By entering a campus identification number as well as their Social Security number, students were able to vote 24 hours a day from any computer with access to the World Wide Web. For students without personal computers, the university provided access to the VoteNet website. There were no paper ballots or traditional polling locations for the election.

Student leaders were initially hopeful that VoteNet would boost the number of student voters, especially after a dismal 4 percent turnout - or 540 votes - in this year's primaries, Evans and Spraggins said. About 12 percent of the university's 14,523 students turned out to vote this week, compared to 8 percent in the 1998 OSU presidential election.

Presidential candidate VanAlstine was heartened by the increased turnout and said bringing technology to the voting process is long overdue, but he feared that glitches in the system could have discouraged an even higher turnout.

VanAlstine said that when he first tried to cast his vote, his connection to the VoteNet server was aborted 15 times. Apparently too many people were trying to access the voting program at the same time. He was finally able to connect and cast his vote about 11:30 p.m.

"Hopefully, VoteNet will increase the number of students voters, but all students don't have equal access to computers," Spraggins said. Spraggins also expressed some concern that voter fraud might be easier with web-based elections.

"There are a lot of student identification numbers" floating around out there, she said.