Several first-year students — all of whom are part of the new public policy major — told The Sun that they did not receive ballots to vote for the appointment of four freshman representatives in the Fall 2023 Student Assembly election.
The voting period spanned from Oct. 4 at 10 a.m. to Oct. 11 at 11:59 p.m., during which some public policy students received a ballot to vote for only the students with disabilities representative at large.
The contested elected positions for the Fall 2023 S.A. election included four freshmen representatives, one College of Engineering representative, one transfer representative and one students with disabilities at-large representative. Two contested positions that public policy freshmen were ineligible to vote for include one College of Engineering representative, which exclusively engineering students could elect, and one transfer representative, which exclusively transfer students could elect.
Only first-years were allowed to vote for the freshman representative position. All undergraduate students were eligible to vote for the students with disabilities at-large representative position. Election results were announced Tuesday, Oct. 17.
For the 2023-2024 academic year, the Jeb E. Brooks School of Public Policy entered its first class of students enrolled directly into it, as opposed to through the College of Human Ecology, where the policy analysis and management major had previously been housed. The Brooks School restructured the prior PAM major into public policy this past August to broaden the curriculum with the addition of engaged learning, language and race, racism and public policy requirements.
While existing PAM students were allowed to choose their major name, incoming freshmen that applied as policy analysis and management majors were not given an option and were enrolled as public policy majors. There are 72 first-years entering the Brooks school out of the 3,537 first-years enrolled for the 2023-2024 school year, making up two percent of the first-year student body. According to several Brooks first-year students, many public policy students reported not receiving a ballot in talks with The Sun.
Eeshaan Chaudhuri ’27, who is majoring in public policy, did not receive a ballot for the S.A. freshman representative election.
“The first day voting opened, I received the disabilities ballot but no freshman ballot,” Chaudhuri said. “One of my friends who had the same problem contacted the election committee and was told ballots were still being sent out in waves. However, I waited and waited, and it never came.”
The election was highly publicized by the S.A. Office of Election, the Office of Assemblies and Cornell Votes, with an abundance of explanations for how freshmen should vote, according to a statement from the Office of Assemblies to The Sun.
“In ‘voting now open’ emails sent at the beginning of the election period, all students were given instructions regarding how to vote, where the ballots are coming from and to check their spam/junk folders if they did not receive a ballot in their main cornell.edu email account,” the Office of Assemblies wrote.
Elliott Serna ’27, a public policy major who ran for the freshman representative position, told The Sun that he contacted Rahul Verma ’24, S.A. director of elections, the Office of the Assemblies and the S.A. Elections Committee on Oct. 4, when he did not receive a ballot to vote for freshman representative.
“That evening [of the first day of the voting period], I did email the elections committee and received word that some ballots were still being rolled out. So, I decided to give it a couple of days. But by Wednesday, Oct. 11, when several peers affirmed they had not gotten their ballots yet either, I was like — something’s off here,” Serna stated.
According to the email, which was obtained by The Sun, Serna asked whether all the voting link emails have been sent out yet, citing that he hasn’t received a ballot for freshman representative in both his inbox and spam folder.
“To that same effect, some of my freshman peers have also let me know they haven’t [received] their emails — or didn’t receive the follow-up email with the freshman ballot — one student said they got the SDS ballot instead, but no freshman ballot,” Serna said.
In response, Verma said that ballots were still being sent out to students.
Anna Cecilia Fierro ’27, a public policy student, agreed that in addition to herself, none of the Brooks first-years she knew received a ballot to vote for freshman representative.
Keten Abebe ’27, another public policy student who ran for freshman representative and did not receive a ballot, was puzzled when she did not receive a ballot, though she understands mass emails are complicated to send out.
“I was just confused as to why certain people received their ballots at awkward times, because some people received them during the day and some people didn’t receive them at all,” Abebe said. “For the future, I think that the S.A. should take out [some number of] weeks to work out all the logistics behind sending out voting in order to make sure everyone gets their ballots.”
In an interview with The Sun, Verma explained that ballots were sent out to all students provided to the Office of Assemblies by the Office of the Registrar.
“The list contained 3,515 students, and 3,517 ballots were sent out [with] two test ones,” Verma said. “The Office of the Registrar sends [the Office of Assemblies] a list of everyone enrolled at Cornell [and] using that, we export the ballot lists that get sent out to all the constituencies. So, for the freshman rep [election], it’s [a] list of all the freshmen enrolled at Cornell.”
The Office of Assemblies said that the most common reason students do not receive a ballot is because the emails with links to ballots can sometimes go to a student’s spam.
According to Verma, some students who emailed the Office of Assemblies reported that they did not receive a ballot immediately when voting began at 10 a.m., which the Office resolved.
“The issue was resolved by the end of the day because the software that sends out the ballots takes time. It’s not [an] instantaneous send. But other than that, we didn’t have any major concerns. We resolved them as students asked,” Verma said.
Furthermore, the Office of Assemblies stated that ballots are sent to every first-year student, and there is no delineation by college within that list of students.
“Because ballots were distributed to all freshmen, their college or program does not make a difference,” the Office of Assemblies stated in a statement to The Sun. “There was no contested Brooks School election for this cycle, so there was no separate Brooks school voter roll made, so there is no chance that Brooks School students were specifically omitted.”
However, students like Katelin Wong ’27, a public policy student, maintain that they never received a ballot for freshman representative, causing feelings of disappointment about being excluded from the voting process.
“[It made me feel] like my voice wasn’t heard,” Wong said.
Serna shared similar feelings of disappointment, citing the importance of civic engagement through voting.
“I will admit, I was a little confused. Discombobulated, if you will,” Serna said. “As not only a candidate but a policy major, I think that civic participation is one of the most important duties we as individuals in societies must do.”
Kira Tretiak ’27 is a Sun contributor and can be reached at [email protected].