Using SAML-based systems to identify voters
Universities are particularly primed for the implementation of an online voting solution because they often already encourage students, faculty, staff, and alumni to complete a variety of processes online through an intranet system. For example, students may enroll for classes, faculty may submit grades and evaluations, and staff might report their working hours by logging on to an online portal with university-specific credentials, often linked with their university email or an ID number.
This means that members of your university community are already familiar and comfortable with performing such online activities, and that they will feel confident using an online voting system. Better yet, with the right online voting provider, you can integrate an online voting solution with your university’s authentication system so that voters can use their same credentials to vote as they do to access other online university portals and processes.
This integration is largely possible because universities tend to use authentication systems based in SAML, or Security Assertion Markup Language. SAML is a specific standard for sharing authentication and authorization data in which users request access to a service using certain information, such as an email address and password. This information is then verified by the service provider and the user is granted access.
Universities rely on SAML to authenticate their members to ensure that no unauthorized users can gain access to online university portals or processes. SAML also helps ensure that students, faculty, staff, and alumni have access to only the appropriate portals and processes (e.g., students cannot gain access to faculty portals).
Integrating an online voting system with a university’s built-in SAML is quite simple because online voting requires similar authentication to verify that users requesting access to the online voting portal are eligible to vote in a given election. Online voting systems may also need to ensure that each voter gains access to the correct ballot, if different groups can vote on different ballot items.
When introducing an online voting system, your online voting provider will work with you to ensure that the integration is smooth and simple. Often it is merely a question of determining who is eligible to vote and creating a voter list with the credentials used by each voter in the university SAML authentication system. It is also possible to create an eligible voter list with all university members, and then to clarify eligibility on an election-specific basis, if your university is implementing the system for multiple voting events with different voting groups.
When it is time to vote, eligible voters will simply log on to the online voting portal using the same credentials they use for every other university process, guaranteeing ease, simplicity, and complete security.
To learn more about online voting for universities, check out some of our previous blog articles!