16.85 percent. No, that’s not the grade I got on my Music 1312 (history of rock music) prelim… although it’s not far off. 16.85 percent was the student participation in our most recent Student Assembly election.
A favorite pastime of Cornellians is to make fun of the S.A. Reading about its problem’s resembles a tabloid, patiently awaiting the next chapter of drama. The root of its issues, however, may stem from the fact that most students don’t participate in the election.
Voting for the S.A. is a virtual process, and campaigning this year was mostly relegated to social media. The lack of any in person campaigning put the nail in the coffin for elections that have already been seeing abysmal participation.
Why, you might ask? Zach Zidi ’22 summed up his reason for not casting a ballot: “I don’t want to vote for people I don’t know. I view student politics as not impactful at all.”
The schedule of a student is packed, filled with studying and social pressures. Just surviving day to day with the usual stress load is daunting, and well over a third of students recently reported mental health related episodes that affected their academics. With all this in mind, from parties and prelims to rushing that business frat you won’t get into, who can blame someone for forgetting about the people you vaguely remember for a free Wall Street Journal subscription?
That view, clearly echoed by much of campus, has some backing. The S.A. has an important job, from managing millions of dollars in funds to making the rules for the dean of students. However, I can personally attest to the campus’ feeling of detachment from the governing body. Even before researching for this article, I didn’t fully comprehend what they did.
Moriah Adeghe ’21, co-director of elections for the S.A., expressed her frustration with the student body’s poor voter turnout: “People view the S.A. as a group of students doing whatever, nobody cares what they’re up to, and it doesn’t really affect me. But it does affect them.”
Adeghe, who led the S.A. through an unfortunate vote-counting fiasco, also explained that “when people see the scandal, the drama, it might prompt them to ignore the S.A. and not care what’s going on.”
That drama, however, might be partly solved by participation. Getting students to vote could revamp the S.A. and help draw attention to its resolutions and meetings. And achieving a larger voter turnout might not even be that difficult.
There has been significant attention on the federal election cycle this year. The campus saw an email from President Pollack encouraging voter registration, and organizations like Cornell Votes continue to push for the same thing. A representative from the sorority Kappa Alpha Theta, which is located just below West Campus, estimated that nearly 700 members of the Greek community registered to vote through their Rock the Polls initiative.
The national vote matters, but so does your local vote. America has undergone a local election crisis in recent years, seeing a major lack of participation in the races that matter the most. Street signs and school board presidents are not as glamorous as the politicians in Washington, but they sure have an impact in your daily life. The same is true about the S.A.
Among the mundane things managed by the S.A., the body also manages the funds for virtually every student organization on campus (and the ability to levy a multi-hundred dollar annual fee). Doesn’t seem so insignificant anymore, does it?
Meanwhile, the problems on the S.A. may partly stem from who we elect. According to Dillon Anadkat ’21, a former candidate for S.A. president and an undesignated at-large S.A. representative, “the student assembly itself is an extremely disconnected organization that doesn’t really represent the Cornell student body. Right now the S.A. is a mechanism for career politicians to promote their interests. If the S.A. wants to be taken seriously, and the S.A. is actually able to represent the student body to the administration, you’ll see student [electoral] participation … shoot up.”
If students participate in voting, our confidence in the S.A. will grow. Like all other elections, more voters will only strengthen the system.
In recent weeks it has been impossible to open Instagram or get a coffee or do anything without a “get out to vote” barrage. And that’s a good thing — Many of our nation’s problems are tied to our failure to get out the vote. But we need to make more of an effort in S.A. elections.
So the next time we make fun of the S.A., let’s think about how it got to where it is. 16.85 percent didn’t pass for my prelim, and it’s not going to pass for the S.A. Let’s all pledge to answer that quick survey next spring; it matters.
Brendan Kempff is a sophomore in the School of Hotel Administration. He can be reached at email@example.com. Slope Side runs every other Monday this semester.