Executive vice president Catherine Huang speaks during the Student Assembly meeting at Willard Straight Hall.

Boris Tsang/Sun Photography Editor

Executive vice president Catherine Huang speaks during the Student Assembly meeting at Willard Straight Hall.

November 14, 2019

Student Assembly Makes Community Ballots Electronic, Citing Spring Divestment Vote

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Due to concerns over the conduction of a public vote for a contentious divestment resolution last spring, the Student Assembly passed a resolution on Thursday changing the undergraduate student voting procedure from a verbal declaration to an electronic ballot.

Julian Kroll ’20, College of Arts and Sciences representative, and Masa Haddad ’21, College of Human Ecology representative, proposed the resolution at last week’s meeting, but the resolution was put on hold as S.A. members shared concerns over the accessibility and logistics of an electronic vote.

College of Arts & Sciences representative Julian Kroll speaks at the Student Assembly meeting at Willard Straight Hall on November 14th, 2019.

(Boris Tsang/Sun Photography Editor)

College of Arts & Sciences representative Julian Kroll speaks at the Student Assembly meeting at Willard Straight Hall on November 14th, 2019.

Community votes will now be cast using a Qualtrics survey, with only ex-officio S.A. members and the undergraduate student body allowed to participate. While community votes are rarely held, the S.A. used a community vote for a resolution based on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement last semester — a vote that ultimately proved decisive in ensuring the resolution’s narrow defeat.

The resolution called on the University to divest from companies “profiting from the occupation of Palestine and human rights violations.” During the polarizing vote, community voters  had to publicly and verbally state if they were voting for, against or abstaining from the resolution.

At the meeting, Hillel president Jillian Shapiro ’20 said she believed that electronic voting could “open the floodgates,” allowing students who may not be invested in the issue to vote a certain way because of their friends.

“I think that when you send the vote to everyone, you run the risk of it being a ‘popularity contest’ in that I can send everyone the link, and say ‘Hi, I know you don’t care about this issue at all, but I do so please vote a certain way,’” Shapiro said at the meeting.

Jillian Shapiro '20 speaks at the Student Assembly meeting at Willard Straight Hall on November 14th, 2019.

(Boris Tsang/Sun Photography Editor)

Jillian Shapiro ’20 speaks at the Student Assembly meeting at Willard Straight Hall on November 14th, 2019.

Kroll countered Shapiro’s point about peer pressure, saying that community votes are only cast for more controversial resolutions — resolutions that he believed would make students think before voting.

Osai Egharevba ’21, College of Engineering representative, echoed similar concerns to Shapiro, and asked if the S.A. would enact any mechanisms to ensure that students could be well-informed before participating in a community vote.

Last week’s resolution proposed that along with the Qualtrics survey, a link to the resolution and a livestream of the S.A. meeting would be available for students to see as they cast their vote. At this week’s meeting, Kroll said that there would be no link to a livestream on the survey, citing the low-quality of the S.A.’s current Zoom livestreams.

The resolution passed 21-1-1, with Egharevba as the only vote against.

Other than passing a mandate to make community votes electronic, the S.A. also passed a resolution that would create a fund — called the “One Cornell Fund” — for student organizations to collaborate on programming events.

“The fund’s purpose is to get these organizations to collaborate, and more than collaborate, to get students talking to other students,” said S.A. President Joe Anderson ’20, who sponsored the resolution.

This fund will allocate $10,000 from the S.A.’s special projects fund to a new account accessible to any registered student organization on campus that wishes to collaborate on an event. When applying for funding, there are limits on the amount of money organizations can request. For two organizations collaborating, the cap is $500; for three, it is $750 and for four or more organizations, the limit is $1000.

The resolution passed 22-0-1.