Hannah Rosenberg / Sun Assistant Photography Editor

Student Assembly presidential candidates Cat Huang ’21, Uche Chukwukere ’21, and Dillon Anadkat debate in-person in March. After elections were postponed due to COVID-19, voting for the presidential race has been suspended, after last-minute concerns over the validity of the ballots arose Wednesday night.

October 1, 2020

S.A. Presidential Elections Restarted Due to Controversy Surrounding Uncounted Ballots

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As of Thursday afternoon, elections for Student Assembly President and University Assembly representatives have been suspended, after last-minute concerns over the validity of the ballots arose Wednesday night.

“We feel that this is the best way to proceed with an honest election since there is no way to include the invalid ballots that have already been cast in the final vote count,” wrote directors of elections Moriah Adeghe ’21 and Savanna Lim ’21 in an email to the Cornell community.

Voting for these two races will now resume Oct. 2 at noon and end Oct. 5 at noon. Originally, voting was supposed to end at 2 p.m. Thursday, with winners to be announced shortly after. Voting for all unranked races still ended at 2 p.m. Thursday.

Yesterday, the three presidential candidates — Cat Huang ’21, Uche Chukwukere ’21 and Dillon Anadkat ’21 — learned that the rules for tabulating votes would disqualify any ballot that leaves a candidate in a race unranked.

For years, S.A. elections used a ranked-choice voting system, a tabulation method where an individual ranks candidates in order of preference, according to Adeghe. Under this system, the candidate with the majority of first preference votes wins, but if there’s no clear majority, then the candidate with the fewest number of first preference votes is eliminated until there’s a winner. If a voter fails to rank a candidate on their ballot, then their vote is discarded.

The directors of elections found that during the last round of S.A. presidential elections in spring 2019, there were 1,435 uncounted ballots because of this policy. The executive vice president’s race had 1,761 invalid ballots.

Adeghe and Lim also wrote that the policy technically did not align with the S.A. charter, which states that “Voters may rank all candidates on the ballot for each of these races,” making ranking optional, not mandatory.

Even though the voting period was already nearing its end, the three presidential candidates and the directors of elections did not learn about this policy until Wednesday. The Office of Assemblies, led by Director Gina Giambattista, manages elections, and Adeghe and Lim reportedly reached out to her to clarify the procedures for ranked-choice voting on Wednesday.

The Office of Assemblies did not publicize that unranked ballots would be discarded until Wednesday night, either. In a Sept. 30 email to remind students to vote, there was a bold disclaimer at the bottom, notifying students that their ballots would not be counted if they did not rank candidates for contested elections. The first email reminding students to vote on Sept. 29 did not contain this disclaimer, but it did tell students to rank candidates on the ballot.

Huang and Chukwukere previously denounced the election rule, saying that they would have supported a revote if the policy wasn’t reversed.