The Student Assembly had everything set for its spring 2020 elections. Candidates signed petitions, some squared off in a debate and the final stretch was underway for the March 16 election.
And then COVID-19 hit.
Just days before the election, President Martha E. Pollack urged students to return home as Cornell announced the semester would continue online, and the S.A. postponed its elections. Now, during another unprecedented semester, S.A. candidates plan to reboot their campaigns.
“It would be easier to do an election in the fall rather than in March when we were doing it and we were getting sent home and in the midst of the election,” said Moriah Adeghe ’21, who is currently one of the co-directors of elections and served as S.A. treasurer last year. “COVID is a lot more important than this election.”
To deal with the unforeseen lack of election results, the S.A. passed a resolution in March to allow students who did not graduate to keep their positions until the fall elections. It also added new co-election directors, Adeghe and Savanna Lim ’21.
“[The S.A.] anticipated a very complicated and difficult elections process this semester,” Lim said. “It’s a lot more helpful that there’s two of us working on it, as opposed to just one.”
For executive vice president Catherine Huang ’21, the interim period currently makes her the highest-ranking member of the S.A., after Joe Andersen ’20 ended his term as president following graduation. Now, Huang once again has the opportunity to vie for the body’s top position.
S.A. presidential candidates Huang, Uchenna Chukwukere ’21 and Dillon Anadkat ’21 debated, campaigned and chalked up to the voting days in March. Six months later, voting for president and the other spring positions — plus those typically scheduled for the fall — will happen virtually from Sept. 29 until Oct. 1.
One difference from last semester will be in how candidates can sell themselves to their fellow Cornellians. The campaigns are required to be completely virtual, a rule that prohibits once traditional campaign activities like quartercarding and chalkings.
Although the presidential candidates already debated back in March, they will face off again at a candidate forum on Sept. 24 via Zoom, according to the S.A. election calendar.
Positions that students would have voted on in the spring and still have candidates running will be closed to new candidates, but positions that are now vacant will be open for Cornellians to run for. These include the minority students liaison at-large and the University representative to the Student Assembly.
The newly added students with disabilities representative at-large position will also be on the ballot this semester, as well as the positions that are typically elected in the fall — a transfer representative and four freshmen representatives.
Not all universities decided to cancel their elections during the pandemic. Syracuse University held its elections in April after students were sent home. Brown University’s Undergraduate Council of Students ran theirs in April as well, but faced problems with voter turnout. Only 37 percent of Brown’s student body voted, down 16 percent from the year before.
The same concern persists six months later at Cornell. Last year, 39.9 percent of students voted, and in 2018 the number was 27 percent.
“I’m definitely worried about voter turnout. The S.A. generally has low voter turnout to begin with,” Adeghe said. “With COVID on top of that, I’m assuming that people have a lot more concerns than S.A. elections.”
Lim said she hopes the virtual version of elections will spark new interest. The process leading up to the vote will resume Wednesday with a candidate information session.
“Everything’s gonna be online and basically everyone goes to school online and kind of lives online,” Lim said. “I’m also hopeful that the pandemic and everything that’s happened from the spring until now, might spur some new interest or some really great candidates for the election.”