TR: Most people know you as a senator, committee chairman, or party leader. What's it like currently holding high office in a non-partisan capacity?
Brian Aungst: It’s great to be serving as the Supervisor of Elections. One of the best aspects of the job was chairing the 700 Codes Revision Committee over the summer with a bi-partisan group of student leaders. We worked very hard to bring the codes up to date and heard a lot of great suggestions for ways to improve how we conduct elections. It is very gratifying to not have to worry about the partisan politics and be able to work with people across the political spectrum to ensure we have successful and accountable elections in SG.
My involvement in Senate was by far the most rewarding experience of my undergrad career. I was elected in my first semester on campus and went on to serve a full two years. I left Senate 2½ years ago to give some other students a chance to serve and to focus on my last year of undergrad.
After starting law school here last year I was open to getting involved again, but purely in a non-partisan public servant capacity. After serving as an Elections Commissioner in the spring I was asked to consider serving as Supervisor. I am by nature a political junkie and love elections so I jumped at the opportunity. I also was attracted by the challenges the job entails. It has been one of the most criticized positions in SG over the last few years, especially since the inception of secured-site voting. I wanted to take up the task of restoring students trust in their SG to be able to run its own elections. This fall was a great success and we are working hard to ensure another smooth election in the spring.
TR: Please tell us about elections staff, what roles they hold in the running of the election, and how many members of your Fall staff will be present for the upcoming Spring elections.
Brian Aungst: I was fortunate to have a tremendous group of students volunteer to serve as Assistant Supervisors in the fall. In all, 11 students stepped up and took on the massive responsibility of coordinating and executing one of the biggest student run elections in the country. Some of the Assistants had experience from the spring, but more than half were first semester freshman looking to get involved. The Assistants helped distribute and re-collect over 80 voting booths at 21 polling locations, worked three days in the qualifying room before the elections, helped replenish poll workers ballots and other supplies, and pretty much served as all around trouble shooters on election day. I hope all of them come back for the spring. Having said that I hope anyone interested in helping with the elections would fill out an application and join the team. There is no limit to how many Assistant Supervisors I have and I don't turn anyone away who wants to get involved and help out.
TR: In your opinion and citing from both the good & the bad, how did secured-online-voting fare in the past Fall-elections?
Brian Aungst: In my personal opinion as someone who was totally uninvolved with the process, secured-site voting was implemented by the Senate in an effort to compromise between paper ballots and true online voting. It has its upsides and downsides just like the two other systems, but I feel its record from fall 2005 and spring 2006 speaks for itself. It is very susceptible to technical errors. Apparently, a poll worker kicked one of the power cords and shutdown South West Rec for over 2 hours last year before anyone could figure out what was going wrong. I personally dislike the fact that many of the computers are not in insular voting booths. I felt very uncomfortable voting at the law school because there were many candidates running from that constituency and everyone could see the screen as I marked my ballot. I wholeheartedly believe in the right to an absolute, no questions asked secret ballot. It is the only way a true representation of who the electorate wants to serve them can be gauged. The IT staff in SG assures me that after the last two elections we could run a flawless secured-site election, but it is my decision and I like the privacy and accountability of paper ballots. After what has happened in the 13th congressional district in Sarasota I think my concerns have been validated. In case of a recount I would much prefer to have the individual ballots which can be hand counted and scrutinized than to simply have to rely on what a computer tells me the total was. Again, this is simply my opinion. It is very possible the next Supervisor will feel differently.
TR: You've made mention that you feel uneasy being the one to decide which voting method will be used for the upcoming elections. Why?
Brian Aungst: I am not uneasy with having to decide which system to use. It was a decision I took exceptionally seriously and spent a great deal of time researching and reflecting upon. Having said that, I don’t know any other government where the Supervisor of Elections has that much power. Think about it, Supervisors of Elections are elected in Florida and they still can’t decide which system to use. The County Commissioners decide which voting method to use and they have to either choose optical-scan paper ballots or touch-screen voting as proscribed by the Florida Department of State. When I was in Senate there were no choices for the Supervisor to make other than where to put the polling locations. The Senate adopted secured-site voting in the summer of '05 as a political maneuver and the students inserted true online voting in the spring election. The incongruence in the manner in which these additions were made to the Elections Code has left the un-elected Supervisor with more power and responsibility than the position was intended to entail. The Supervisor’s job is to ensure the secrecy, accuracy, and integrity of the elections. It is a position that should have very few discretionary choices, particularly ones that involve hot-button political issues.
TR: Why do you suppose the issue of internet-voting has become such a partisan issue? Hypothetically, what if anything (in your personal and realistic opinion) do you think would happen to what is known as the "Greek/FBK vote" and to the "Indie vote" if internet voting came to fruition?
Brian Aungst: As a non-partisan official who has been out of the political process for three years I have no opinion on its potential impact on campus politics. My only concern is how it would affect the fundamental rights of the students to have an equal chance to participate in the election and have their votes tabulated and weighted equally.
TR: Although you have made it clear that you are appointed-not-elected and that winning over students is not as important as doing your job correctly, did you have any reservations when choosing scan paper ballots over internet voting, being that this was mandated by the student body or again, were you solely concerned with executing your job as precisely as possible? Please expound.
Brian Aungst: One reason I agreed to take the position was because I knew I would devote a tremendous amount of time and energy weighing this decision. One of my friends asked me “why would you ever want that job?“ I wanted the decision on which voting system to utilize to be made with due consideration. Last year we used Secured-Site voting in the fall and spring without giving any thought to whether we should instead use paper ballots. Even after the so-called “Digital Disaster“ in the fall we just went right back to Secured-Site as if it was the only choice. After giving a lot of consideration to the opinions of SG officials and regular students I felt the only way I could accomplish my primary job of running efficient and accountable elections was to choose optical-scan paper ballots. There is absolutely no protocol or procedure for the Supervisor to choose a voting system in the SG Statutes or our Constitution. I relied on the appropriate SG law and determined in my opinion the only way we could implement online voting would be unconstitutionally violable of students Equal Protection rights under the 14th Amendment and also in violation of the State of Florida’s Fourth Amendment. If students really want online voting to be the only option they should pass a constitutional amendment instead of an initiative, or pass an initiative that eliminates any other options of right now, for better or worse, the choice is mine. I considered my options prudently and arrived at the decision I know was in the best interest of the students, regardless if everyone agrees with me.
TR: Will the decision of the courts have any impact on your office? Essentially you still decide which option to use, correct? And, what do you think was SBP Boyles' reasoning in even sending this to the courts? Escape-strategy, a symbolic gesture of good faith to the Opposition?
Brian Aungst: The decision of the Court still has not been handed down so I am not quite sure how it will affect the spring elections. No questions were raised by the Court in regards to paper ballots. As of right now my intention is to use optical scan paper ballots again, but to also utilize swipe card identification at the polls. Essentially it will be a combination of paper ballots and secured-site online voting. Voters will swipe their Gator One IDs to sign in at the polls and then be handed an optical-scan paper ballot. This eliminates any possibility of double voting. If the Court rules online or secured-site voting unconstitutional, then those voting systems would become unavailable for me and future Supervisors to utilize. My feeling is they will either rule that voting systems are a discretionary political decision of the Senate and the Supervisor and decline to find any unconstitutional, or they will find true internet online voting unconstitutional.
TR: If conditions drastically changed and you were ordered by SBP Boyles to permit internet voting, would you then still stand by your convictions and respectively stand by your decision? President Boyles remains an active player in a political world, whereas you are non-partisan.
To be more clear, does the SBP have any input in how you carry out your work in any way, shape, or form?
Brian Aungst: This is an interesting separation of powers question from a legal perspective, but it has little relevance to the real world. President Boyles appointed me after an extensive interview process. He appointed me because he wanted the Supervisor to chair a bi-partisan committee to re-write the 700 Codes. As a former Judiciary Committee Chairman, Elections Commissioner, and a law student, I think he felt I would approach this responsibility with the proper knowledge and leadership to achieve the best result for the students. When I met with him for the first time after my confirmation, he laid out his expectations of me very clearly. He told me he expected me to thoroughly research each voting system and come back with a well developed and logical reason why I arrived at my decision. I defended my choice in front of the Alligator editorial board, the Senate, and the Supreme Court in an hour long power-point presentation. The result was the highest voter turnout in a fall election, and an election with no legitimate problems. We had more polling locations than ever before to overcome the perceived loss of convenience of secured-site voting and we have every ballot that was cast in storage for anyone interested to inspect and verify the results. I am the first Supervisor to serve a full term since Ali Blye in 2004-2005 and I believe President Boyles is satisfied with my performance. He has offered me many criticisms and suggestions from the fall election and that is partially why we are switching to electronic sign-in for the spring. He is also very concerned about student’s convenient access to the polls.
TR: Any parting words, links, and/or files?
Brian Aungst: I would just like to thank you for the opportunity to publicly address everyone and ask anyone who is interested, to apply to be an Assistant Supervisor of Elections. I would also like to add a few links:
-We have the highest voter turnout in terms of percentage of students and raw number of voters than any other school in the SEC. Click Here
-Also of note, the University of Wisconsin-Madison (a 40,000 student institution) recently utilized online voting to a disastrous result. They had to cancel their online elections twice and then revert to the tried and true paper ballots. Also, most schools purporting to have online voting actually use a form of secured-site voting (like FSU) Link #1 , Link #2 , Link #3
Finally, there has been a mixed result in implementing online voting, most schools that do so do not see a verifiable increase in voter turnout. Link
Thank you all very much.
I appreciate the opportunity,
Supervisor of Elections
Email Supervisor Aungst