Ben Parker / Sun Assistant Photography Editor

Feelings of anxiety and restlessness permeated campus on the day before the election.

November 3, 2020

Between Prelims and COVID Tests, Students Weigh Election Stress

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On the eve of Election Day, the semester’s first snowfall left campus hushed. Like the day’s gray clouds, anxiety hung over students as they braced for what may be an election like no other. 

In the race between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, Cornell’s left-leaning campus favors the Democratic candidate, and many say they fear a Trump reelection. But as prelims accumulate and fall move-out draws closer, many are also preoccupied.

While studying for her U.S. Latino history class in the lounge of her Balch Hall dormitory, Axaraly Ortiz ’24 said it was difficult to focus on school on Election Day’s eve: “I feel like I’ve just been distracted by school so much lately,” she said. “And until today it hasn’t hit me how much is at stake.”

Ortiz, whose parents immigrated from Mexico, said she feels “uneasy” about another Trump presidency because of his racist and anti-Mexico, nationalist rhetoric. She recalled how her peers at a conservative Indiana high school treated her in the wake of his 2016 victory, joking that she might “get deported.”

“I don’t know how people are gonna act depending on the [election] outcome,” Ortiz said.

Julia Bernstein ’23 said she worries how four more years of Trump will affect minority populations. She was particularly frustrated about his appointment of Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett and the future of reproductive rights for women. 

And all day, as frigid temperatures captured campus and students scurried between COVID-19 test sites, the seldom in-person class, few open campus eateries and socially distant dormitories, murmurs of Election Day predictions and fears persisted. 

Sitting with a maroon colored mask on in Klarman Hall Monday, which she jokingly called “the last day of normalcy,” Bernstein hoped to finish her work and leave Tuesday free to focus on the election, even though election results may be delayed for days.

“It’s draining,” she said, concerned about the future of women’s rights. “It’s mentally draining to think about how our rights are going to be stripped.” 

Bernstein is worried about unrest after the election, especially from right-wing groups that support Trump. She sat with her friend, Julie Lee ’23, as the two declared emphatically that a Trump victory would be a worst-case scenario. 

Ryan Meng-Killeen ’21 is a member of Cru Cornell, a Christian fellowship, that called for election-related prayers this morning.

“People definitely seem anxious,” he said.

He thinks people are approaching this election with “more guarded” attitudes than in 2016, when many thought former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was a shoo-in. And many students wonder how long they’ll have to wait for an election result, since more voters sent in absentee ballots to avoid going to the polls during the pandemic. In New York, voters can still mail their ballots on Election Day, meaning many may not arrive for another week. 

Others are concerned about the possibility of an ambiguous election result. Many Republicans have sown public doubt in the security of voting by mail, and in September, Trump refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he lost. 

But Edwin Carrero, who works at the 7/11 in Collegetown, said he hasn’t heard much discussion about the election in his store, noting that students seemed more focused on celebrating Halloween last weekend when some students dressed up despite COVID-19 restrictions. 

“It’s like another day around here,” Carrero said as he hurriedly restocked refrigerated shelves.

And Mohit Mathur ’21, who also spent the afternoon in Klarman — now quieter due to social distancing and a semi-closed Temple of Zeus — said he thinks the campus atmosphere hasn’t changed much in recent weeks. 

“I think that Cornell has already established its culture regarding the election,” Mathur said. 

Ted Morency ’22, who worked for the Biden campaign, thinks students have other concerns weighing on their minds now, like how they’ll get home for Thanksgiving. 

But he also thinks more students were motivated to get out and vote in this election after regretting Trump’s 2016 victory. He plans to vote in his home state of New Jersey tomorrow and feels “optimistic” about the election.

“Once the results come out, it’ll feel more real,” Morency said before walking out into the night snow. “Right now, we’re kind of in our own little bubble.”