October 1, 2020

LETTER TO THE EDITOR: A Candidate’s Response to an Illegitimate Election

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To the Editor:

On Wednesday afternoon, the Student Assembly directors of elections notified candidates that all ranked-choice ballots that did not rank every candidate would be invalidated. This clarification was provided only to candidates and came more than 24 hours after voting began. Candidates like myself were left to communicate this news to our supporters, most of whom had already voted. They all expressed warranted frustration and disappointment that their votes would be thrown out.

The instructions on the ballot did not suggest that voters needed to rank every candidate. On the contrary, they indicated that it was entirely acceptable not to rank every candidate:

“Please rank all options in your order of preference. Using the drop down menu next to each option, select ‘1’ for your most preferred choice, ‘2’ for your second most preferred, and so on. If you choose not to include a candidate at all it means you would rather have your vote not count than have it count for that candidate.”

According to the instructions, the only consequence of not ranking every candidate is that your vote might not count if all of your selected candidates were eliminated. Nothing on the ballot suggested that failure to rank every candidate would lead to the vote being thrown out.

Furthermore, the Office of the Assemblies knew this was a source of serious confusion for voters. Last year, more than 1,400 votes were thrown out in the election for S.A. President. Nevertheless, the Office of the Assemblies declined to clarify the ballot instructions and make plain that failure to rank every candidate would cause the ballot to be tossed. The fact that the Office of the Assemblies thinks it’s acceptable to routinely toss thousands of ballots is offensive to the democratic principles underlying Cornell’s shared governance bodies.

The directors of elections have been sympathetic to these concerns, but have said that the only remedy can come from the Office of the Assemblies, which to this point has been obstinate and unwilling to address this serious threat to the election’s integrity.

As a candidate in this election, I cannot stress enough the gravity of this error. By the end of this election, thousands of students will likely have their ballots invalidated –– shattering their faith in an election already hampered by abysmal turnout. The Office of the Assemblies must rectify this situation. It must ensure that every ballot cast in accordance with written instructions is counted, or stage a new election. In the absence of action by the Office of the Assemblies, all victorious candidates should refuse to be seated until a fair election is conducted and all students have the chance to make their voices heard.

Avery Bower ’23

Candidate for Undergraduate Representative to the University Assembly