Michael Wenye Li/Sun Senior Photographer

The S.A. tabled a resolution introduced on Thursday that would allow for community votes to be conducted through online surveys.

November 8, 2019

Following Last Semester’s Contentious BDS Vote, S.A. Aims to Make Community Vote More Private

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The Student Assembly paused a resolution on Thursday that would change the way community votes — votes casted by non-S.A. member undergraduate students — are conducted over logistical and accessibility concerns. Should the resolution pass, students will be allowed to cast votes online rather than verbally and publicly.

In light of the highly contentious community vote that took place last semester over a resolution based on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, Julian Kroll ’20 and Masa Haddad ’21 proposed the resolution to ensure community members casting votes can do so privately.

Last semester, the S.A. voted on a contentious resolution that would have Cornell divest from any companies complicit in human rights violations, particularly ones affiliated with Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories.

While S.A. members voted in a secret ballot, for the community vote — which was cast by undergraduate students present at the meeting and counted as two S.A. votes — students had to verbally say if they were voting for, against or abstaining from the resolution.

“During the community vote last semester, there was a privacy issue,” Kroll, College of Arts and Sciences representative, said at the meeting. “Particularly in votes that are particularly contentious and in which people’s votes might put them in personal peril, it’s really hard to protect their privacy to a satisfactory extent [when the vote] is in person.”

The resolution calls for community votes to be cast through a Qualtrics survey, which Haddad, College of Human Ecology representative, said would include a link to the resolution and a livestream of the S.A.’s meeting. The survey would open at the start of the meeting and close before S.A. voting begins. Since Qualtrics has CU web-authorization, students would only be able to vote once, Haddad added.

If enacted, the Qualtrics survey would be available to students through the S.A.’s website — students would not be notified by email.

When presenting the resolution, Kroll acknowledged that the resolution “wasn’t perfect,” but saw it as an improvement to the S.A.’s current procedures.

“We understand that the challenge to this is that people might say that people are just going to … vote on it en masse, but I think the reality is, that, first of all, if the vote is contentious, they’re going to be political and polarizing enough that everyone’s going to have an opinion,” Kroll said.

The resolution raised concerns among S.A. members over if online voting could be a feasible substitute for physically casting a vote at an S.A. meeting regarding its legitimacy, binding nature and accessibility. One of the issues was if S.A. members would be able to access an online community vote since they are Cornell students — S.A. members are barred from partaking in community votes.

Questions were raised over whether one should be allowed to change their vote after it’s cast, whether online votes could be susceptible to loopholes, and whether a digital vote could eliminate the participation threshold for those who have other commitments during or immediately after the time of the vote.

Since Kroll and Haddad proposed in their resolution that online voting would open at the start of an S.A. meeting and close right before the S.A. votes, other members expressed concern over if the voting time period was too short. Kroll said that if the time period is extended, then it becomes murky as to if the vote is a community vote or a student-wide referendum on a resolution.

The resolution is expected to be presented again next Thursday at the S.A. meeting.