February 25, 2009

Election Change Gives Students More of a Say

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The Student Assembly’s decision to allow the student body to directly elect its next president and executive vice president was intended to “make the elections process both more open and more democratic,” according to Resolution 12, passed by the S.A. last spring.
According to Mike McDermott ’09, director of elections, one of the problems with the previous election format was the potential for the S.A. president to have been elected by only a small minority of Cornell students. He gave the example of an S.A. representative elected by one of the smaller colleges being in turn elected internally to the position of S.A. president. In this case, the president of the S.A. would have only been voted into office by the students from his or her respective college. Thus, the majority of Cornell students from the other colleges would have had no part in electing the president.
“The supporters of [direct election] and the Elections Committee are very strongly behind the idea that the candidates will now come from the entire student body and be running for the entire student body,” McDermott said.
While many members of the S.A. are excited by the prospect of direct elections, the S.A. has had to rework its election rules accordingly and implement a “smooth transition” mentoring program to reconcile the out-going president with the in-coming according to S.A. President Ryan Lavin ’09.
To address the preparation of the incoming president, the S.A. passed a resolution in January outlining the training of the newly elected president. This “smooth transition” resolution states that the president-elect must regularly attend meetings of the Student Assembly and meet with the Executive Board to discuss current S.A. issues, Presidential responsibilities, and Parliamentary procedures.
“As soon as elections are over, I’m going to spend a lot of time and resources making sure that the next S.A. chair is resourceful and prepared by the time I leave,” Lavin said.
Concerns have been raised regarding the level of experience that the presidential “slate” candidates have. Of the seven slates, two consist of candidates who have not previously served on the S.A. However, it is hoped that the campaign process will take care of these concerns.
“If campaigns are run efficiently and effectively, then hopefully, the student body will know to vote for the best candidate,” Lavin said.
In addition, the S.A. election rules have been modified to accommodate a popular, at-large campaign. In past years, organizations had been required to inform the elections committee and all other candidates before they could announce endorsements.
“That was such a restrictive rule that it kept organizations from getting involved,” McDermott said.
In the upcoming elections, at-large candidates may receive endorsements from SAFC student groups without having to have the endorsing groups “jump through hoops.”
Because of the popular nature of the election, the campaign is expected to be more “active” and “creative.” Campaign promises range from the creation of a campus pub to the negotiation of the Ithaca noise ordinance to the reestablishment of two-ply toilet paper on campus.
“We have a good number of candidates running that genuinely have good ideas and constructive thoughts on how to improve the S.A. It’ll be really good for the Assembly to get all of these ideas out there and get people thinking about how we can improve undergraduate student life,” said Executive Vice President Chris Basil ’10, who is also running for S.A. president.
“Before, it was an internal election, so being elected was about cultivating respect among other members of the assembly. Now it’s somewhat more of a popularity contest among students at-large,” Basil said.
Although student responses vary, some have expressed concern regarding the popular elections.
“I almost like the internal elections better,” Brittany Jarrett ’12 said. Jarrett felt “that the presidency is a position where certain goals must be set and tasks accomplished,” and that these goals could be better handled by a candidate selected by Assembly members.” Along those lines, certain things that should be considered are not properly reflected in a popularity contest,” Jarrett said.