Faculty Senate Office
University of Washington, Seattle Campus
Adapting WebQ for Faculty Senate Balloting
When Tasha Taylor became an assistant to the Secretary of the Faculty in September 2001, the office had just begun sending agendas via email. Taylor tackled the next big electronic leap: electronic balloting.
In Summer 2002, Taylor, Lea Vaughn (Secretary of the Faculty), and Oren Sreebny (of Computing & Communications) met and concluded that the best way to conduct Faculty Senate elections online was by using the Catalyst survey tool, WebQ. Taylor arranged a test -- a small election for a Senator group representative -- in Autumn 2002. It worked well, paving the way for the bigger project.
Going Electronic Required Legislation
Because the Faculty Code refers to written ballots, legislation had to be passed to enable a change to electronic voting. During the 2002-03 academic year, legislation to change the Faculty Code was written and a Catalyst staff member appeared before the Faculty Senate to answer questions about electronic secrecy and security. WebQ uses UW NetIDs to secure online surveys, and restricts each individual to voting just once. With approval by the Senate, the proposed legislation for electronic balloting went to all voting faculty members -- some 3700 -- by paper ballot on June 19, 2003. It was overwhelmingly approved.
"Someone who voted 'yes' complained we were wasting paper," recalls Taylor, "when, of course, we had to send paper until the legislation was passed!" The legislation also states that paper ballots be sent to faculty members who do not have email, which Taylor estimates to be about one percent.
Working With Catalyst: 96 Ballots Needed
In late June 2003, with the legislation passed, Taylor met with Mark Alway of the Catalyst team to set up a full-scale sample ballot in WebQ. The Faculty Senate elections must provide each of the 96 voting units with a ballot listing its specific slate of candidates. A different ballot, therefore, must be created separately in WebQ for each of the 96 voting units for each election.
"One of the challenges was the way WebQ worked at that time," says Taylor. "You could copy in a list of email addresses or UW NetIDs, but when you created a ballot, you had to put one name at a time in a field."
Faculty Senate ballots range from 10 to over 300 names. Faced with creating a 328-name ballot for faculty in the Department of Medicine, Taylor asked if there was any way to streamline the process. With a proposal for special programming by Catalyst and funds allocated from the Faculty Senate Office, a new feature was added to WebQ that enables one to copy and paste in answers or, in this case, names on a ballot. WebQ then automatically populates the answers into the correct fields on the form.
Increasing Participation While Saving Money and Time
The first full electronic Faculty Senate election was held April 19 - 30, 2004. Taylor sent emails to voting faculty with a link to the appropriate WebQ ballot. Based on the number of paper ballots submitted in the 2002 Faculty Senate elections, Taylor determined there was a 50 percent increase in participation in the April 2004 electronic elections. "I felt it went well," she says. "We heard a lot of 'this is really great!' and 'this is wonderful!'."
In addition, she discovered that electronic voting has a cost-saving benefit. "It has definitely saved our budget some money," says Taylor, who figures they didn't have to spend some $4600 on printing, mailing, and copying. Taylor also saved time because WebQ calculated the results for her. "It was wonderful to just go online and print out the totals," says Taylor, who in the past counted ballots manually. "That's where it saved me absolutely the most time."
Lea Vaughn says the Senate Faculty Chair and Vice Chair gave Taylor wonderful compliments at a July 12, 2004 meeting. "They heard nothing but good things all around campus about how the elections were held," confirms Vaughn.
Using WebQ for Nominations and Legislation
Besides the Faculty Senate elections, Taylor will be using WebQ for nominations and legislation. In the past, all voting faculty received Faculty Council Committee Nomination forms by mail, asking them to volunteer for a Faculty Council or Committee or to nominate someone and return the paper ballot. That changed in February 2004, when WebQ was used for nomination balloting.
"This, our first campus-wide WebQ, went to all 3,708 voting faculty," says Taylor. Because the list of UW NetIDs for the WebQ nomination ballot was so large, Taylor got "I can't get into it" complaints. She called the Catalyst folks. "It was a challenge for them, but they tweaked it and made it easier and faster," says Taylor. "They have been wonderful about working with me. I really appreciate them."
Lastly, Taylor can use WebQ for Faculty Senate legislation, which has to be voted on by all voting members of the faculty. In fact, for two legislative issues voted on in May 2004, she did just that.
by Kay Pilcher
Computing & Communications