Julia Nagel/Sun Photography Editor

Alderperson-elects Clyde Lederman '26 (right) and Patrick Kuehl '24 (second from right) sit next to each other during a Student Assembly meeting on Sept. 28, where Kuehl serves as president. The pair appeared to gain crucial votes from fraternity members in close elections for the Ithaca Common Council.

November 21, 2023

In Low-Turnout Election, City Candidates Found Crucial Votes at Cornell Frats

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Two Cornell students who won seats on Ithaca’s Common Council — including the one who ran a controversial and unannounced write-in campaign — coordinated more closely with Cornell fraternities than was previously known, discussing the possibility of allowing for later fraternity parties and even getting approved to pick up absentee ballots for fraternity brothers.

Patrick Kuehl ’24, who edged out an incumbent this month in a surprise write-in campaign for the Fourth Ward, and Clyde Lederman ’26, who won a close race in the Fifth Ward, both were elected in part because of absentee and affidavit ballots cast in wards with low numbers of voters. In the Fifth Ward, 20 of the 60 absentee ballot requests were made by fraternity brothers, along with 19 of the 22 requests in the Fourth Ward. The forms obtained by The Sun only indicate who requested ballots, and do not indicate which of those requestors actually voted.

The ballot applications show that all of the fraternity brothers who requested absentee ballots in the fourth and fifth wards authorized either Kuehl or Lederman to pick up their ballots from the Tompkins County Board of Elections and deliver them to the fraternities. Ballots were requested by members of five fraternities, with the most requests coming from Sig Phi, Chi Psi and Delta Kappa Epsilon.

The requests came after Kuehl and Lederman met with fraternity presidents on Oct. 22 and encouraged their members to vote in the Nov. 7 election, according to a fraternity member who was briefed on the meeting. 

All of the 39 fraternity members who requested ballots across the two districts said on the request forms that they were either going to be out of the area on election day — Nov. 7 — or had a “temporary illness or physical disability.”

James Gardner, an election law expert at the University at Buffalo, said voters must be truthful about the reason they are requesting absentee ballots. He said the arrangement in which Kuehl and Lederman were authorized to deliver absentee ballots to the fraternity brothers was unusual but did not appear to break any rules.

“Typically, if someone else was going to deliver an absentee ballot, it would be because the voter was unable to do so him or herself, and it would be either a family member or, if they were in a nursing home, it would be some employee of the nursing home,” Gardner said.

Lederman defended being authorized to pick up the ballots, saying that he believed it was “standard practice” and that mail delivery around Cornell can be unreliable. Kuehl declined to comment.

Kuehl and Lederman’s close coordination with fraternities depicts an ambitious effort to find votes from fraternities in a notoriously low-turnout district, where a handful of ballots can swing an election. Thousands of people live in the Fourth Ward, but because it is so heavily populated by college students — most of whom do not vote in Tompkins County — scavenging for votes can be difficult. This year, only 100 people voted in the Fourth Ward, and Kuehl won by nine votes. Lederman won his election by 25 votes — five more than the number of absentee ballots requested by fraternity members in his ward.

Kuehl has already been criticized for running a secretive write-in campaign, in which even his opponent, Jorge DeFendini ’22, did not know he was running until Election Day. Kuehl has given shifting answers about how long he was openly running. He said shortly after the election that he had been canvassing for a month and a half, but said more recently that he did not officially launch his bid until around Oct. 22, the day he met with fraternity presidents.

At that meeting, Kuehl and Lederman discussed their campaigns with fraternity presidents and Rocco DeLorenzo ’24, the Interfraternity Council president. Kuehl, Lederman and DeLorenzo all work together on the Student Assembly.

Following that meeting of fraternity presidents, one fraternity, Pi Kappa Alpha, held a chapter meeting in which members were urged to fill out voter registration forms, according to Sasha Boguraev ’24, who attended the Pi Kappa Alpha meeting. He said members were told that voting for Kuehl and Lederman could lead to later parties — past the general current end time of 1 a.m. Members of Pi Kappa Alpha were not represented in the absentee ballot request forms. (Boguraev said he did not register because he did not want to vote for candidates without knowing more about their policies.)

The campaign position to extend the City of Ithaca noise ordinance does not appear on Lederman’s campaign website, and because Kuehl’s campaign was largely unknown, his positions were not widely understood in the run-up to the election.

“The idea was to pass these voter registration forms out, get the fraternity brothers to sign up for them and then go and vote for these people,” Boguraev said, describing his takeaway from the meeting.

At another fraternity house, Pi Kappa Phi, Ethan Hersch ’26 said the fraternity president slid voter registration forms underneath fraternity brothers’ doors and sent messages encouraging them to register and vote, noting that Lederman might be an ally to fraternities.

And at the Chi Psi house, the fraternity which DeLorenzo is part of, Arjun Parikh ’26 similarly said that brothers were told “Clyde would be helpful” to the fraternity.

Angela Bunay ’24 contributed reporting.

Clarification, Nov. 21, 1:09 a.m., 4:38 p.m.: This article has been updated to clarify that Lederman won his election by 25 votes and that members of Pi Kappa Alpha were not represented in absentee ballot request forms.