February 6, 2011

Cornell Hires Vendor For Alumni Trustee Election

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With the Cornell alumni trustee elections underway, the University hopes to expedite the voting process with a new voting system by Election Service Corporation, a third-party vendor.

According to Chris Marshall, associate vice president for alumni affairs, administrators made a concerted effort to “streamline” this year’s election in order to “increase participation, decrease costs and increase our green effective.”

Marshall said that turning to an external, professional vendor to assist the University in the orchestration of the election was a “win, win, win.”

Like years past, the 2011 election features four candidates: Gregory J. Galvin ’82, Rana Glasgal ’87, Mitchell Lee J.D. ’96 and Eva Sage-Gavin ’80. The two who receive the most votes will join six other alumni-elected trustees and serve for a four-year term.

This year’s election, which began Feb. 1 and will end April 1, is similar to recent elections in that both paper and online ballots are available to alumni. Each balloting system, however, is more efficient than it was in previous years due to the work of ESC, Marshall said.

Elizabeth Altman, one of the current alumni-elected trustees, said that the new online system makes voting much easier. When elections were run internally in the past, alumni needed their NetIDs to vote.

This year, however, the external company e-mails alumni verification codes specific to its system. Altman said that many alumni who do not interact regularly with the University do not know their Net IDs, making voting in previous elections more difficult.

“The whole goal was to make the [voting] process easier for [alumni],” Altman said. Even if alumni still experience difficulty, Altman said it would be easy to seek help by calling the election customer service number.

“The big need we have is to make sure alums recognize the importance of voting and take the few minutes it takes to do so,” Altman said.

Students are the heart of the University, but they do not stop being students upon graduation, she added.

“Alums, in my mind, are just older students,” Altman said. “The trustee elections give them a meaningful way to participate in the governance of the University at the highest level … and that, to me, is a great aspect of having these alumni elections.”

Relying more heavily on online voting made the process more democratic, efficient and sustainable, according to Marshall. Marshall also said that the external vendor helped reduce costs by not only eliminating the need for many paper ballots, but also by making the paper ballot system more efficient.

More than 200,000 alumni were provided with ballots — 140,000 online and 60,000 paper, Marshall said. People with alumni status are eligible to vote in the election.

The target for voter turnout, according to Marshall, is around 20 percent of those eligible. He said the average among the University’s Ivy League peers who hold similar elections is an 18-percent voter turnout.

Marshall explained that, while the current voting process is very new, the process for selecting the candidates has been consistent and relatively unvaried.

The Committee on Alumni Trustee Nominations, a standing committee comprised of representatives from all ten colleges within the University and all the University leadership groups, develops an initial list of about 200 alumni who have the credentials to be a candidate for election to the Board of Trustees.

The committee then narrows down the list to 40 individuals and meets multiple times to further winnow the number of candidates into a ranked top-ten list. In order of their rankings, those on the top-ten list are then contacted and asked if they would like to run for election.

“I write to encourage your participation in an important decision that will affect the future of your alma mater,” Skorton stated in his letter to alumni. Later in the letter, he wrote that trustees voted in by the alumni, faculty, staff and students all comprise the Board of Trustees and help “to steer Cornell in the best possible direction.”

Altman said that the nature of the Board of Trustees’s composition is symbolic of the nature of Cornell.

“We have a diverse board, and it’s diverse along lots of different dimensions. And that’s partially due to the way trustees get elected,” Altman said. “I think [that diversity] is totally consistent with Cornell’s identity and culture focusing on inclusiveness.”

Original Author: Seth Shapiro