Education Lab

Fresno State students vote electronically

Fresno State students elected a new president this week without ever stepping into a voting booth.

Leveraging students' love of technology, officials conducted the Associated Students Inc. election solely by electronic ballot and without any polling places.

Students voted through an online system last year, but a handful of computer-equipped booths also were available.

The transition from paper to cyberspace is designed partly to save trees and boost traditionally puny turnout, officials said. Over three days this week, students voted at their convenience -- logging in with passwords sent to their Fresno State e-mail accounts.

Nearly 1,800 students voted -- only 9.5% of those eligible, but nearly double last year's turnout of about 5%, officials said in announcing results Friday.

"I think the online voting helps," said Gary Nelson, coordinator for student activities and leadership development.

Elected as next year's president was Pedro Ramirez, 21, who is majoring in both political science and agricultural economics. Ramirez, part of a renewed wave of activism on campus, said he will work on issues such as student fees and improving the image of student government.

Ramirez said he campaigned both personally and electronically, using the tools of social networking to reach potential voters. While the online voting system had bugs -- some students didn't immediately receive e-mail notifications, for example -- "it was pretty effective in getting people to go out and vote," he said.

Students received a unique user name and password enabling them to access the system. Other e-mails served as reminders of the voting window to elect 19 members of student government.

Tara Powers-Mead, director of university affairs for Associated Students Inc., said the new system is more environmentally friendly. Last year, she said, 30 trees were planted to represent the paper that was saved because the ballots were electronic.

Students also are comfortable in front of a computer screen. "We're keeping up with the technology that students use," she said.