Alex Nagel/Staff Photographer

Student Assembly at Willard Straight Hall on Oct 20th, 2022.

October 26, 2022

Students Elect Freshman and Transfer Representatives to Student Assembly with Record-Low Turnout

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Following weeks of campaigning, the Student Assembly freshman representative election results were announced on Friday, Oct. 12. The class of 2026 freshman student representatives are Ronan Chatterji ’26, Kathy Liu ’26, Bahram Mehretu ’26 and Andrew Richmond ’26 — who received 91, 153, 96 and 67 votes respectively. Yujian Yuan ’25 won the transfer seat with 25 votes.

The Student Assembly holds regularly-scheduled elections twice a year. Spring elections determine the 20 students who represent the majority of the undergraduate student body, while fall elections determine freshman and transfer representatives and fill vacancies from the spring election. Certain positions are reserved for members of a particular constituency: the freshman representatives must be freshman students, the transfer representative must be a new transfer student and college or school-specific positions must be held by students enrolled in that particular college or school.

This fall, voting took place during the week after fall break, from Oct. 12 to 14. In the freshman election, of 3,494 eligible voters only 492 cast their votes, leading to a 14.08 percent turnout. This marks a significant drop from both the 29.82 percent turnout rate of fall 2021 and the 22.74 percent seen in fall 2020. 

In the transfer election, turnout was even worse, falling into the single digits. In fall 2021, 24.69 percent of eligible students voted in that race — this year, with only 43 of 526 eligible voters participating, turnout sank to 8.17 percent. On the final ballot, only 25 people voted for the winner. 

However, this election season had more candidates than the previous year, with a total of nine candidates running for four positions. Students were able to vote via OPAVote Ranked Choice Vote, which could be accessed through a link sent to their student emails. 

SA Elections Director Isaac Chasen ’23 said it is important for students to turn out and vote in these elections due to the assembly’s role in campus affairs. 

“The Student Assembly helps formulate a wide range of policies on campus, from academic policy to mental health initiatives,” Chasen said. “It is also responsible for allocating the millions of dollars that comprise the Student Activity Fee to Cornell student organizations. We hope everyone will take a few seconds to vote in future SA elections and promote civic engagement on campus, as doing so will help make our Cornell experience better.”

Candidates had to gain 75 petition signatures to get on the ballot for freshman representative. After all petition signatures were collected, a two-week campaigning period followed, which included an SA-hosted a forum for candidates to better publicize their ideas. This year, many campaigns included promises of more social events for the freshman class and overall making Cornell a positive environment. 

Being in the assembly is a big change for the new representatives. For Richmond, it’s his first time being in student government and will be a chance to get to know his class as he serves them. 

“I have always been inspired by community engagement and activism and I believe that being elected to this position will allow me to grow as a person by hearing diverse perspectives, but more importantly, help me to ensure that the voices of my classmates are heard and that their needs are met,” Richmond said. 

Chatterji said he decided to run for first year representative due to his connections within the freshman class.

“This position means so much to me,” Chatterji said. “I understand the importance of my duties. I’m one of four freshmen representing the entire class working with the administration.”

Many of the students who won, such as Liu, campaigned on improving campus services for students, such as shortening lines at the RPCC mailroom, free laundry, more printers, air conditioning for all students and more student organization funding. 

For Mehretu, representation was also an issue. He said he ran for freshman representative to increase the number of diverse voices in the assembly that could bring insights on minority student issues. 

“The experiences I face and the experiences the majority of the student population on campus faces are very different,” Mehretu said. “I ran for freshman [representative] with the understanding that the insight I could bring to the Student Assembly would be very much beneficial to the minorities on campus.”

Despite needing to adjust to the new position and learn more about how he can help his class, Chatterji said he feels popular and happy after the election. 

“People coming up to me to tell me they voted really made me feel like a significant part of the school community,” Chatterji said. “I realized that not only does everyone like me as a person, but a significant percentage of the freshman class felt like I was the best freshman to represent them and voice their concerns.”