Cornell Votes held a Civic Celebration on Thursday, Nov. 30 in the Johnson Museum of Art, recognizing their third year as a club and their success in increasing student voter turnout in recent local and national elections.
Cornell Votes is a University-sponsored nonpartisan student organization under the David M. Einhorn Center for Community Engagement. Founded in 2020, Cornell Votes aims to expand access to voting and increase awareness of civic responsibility among Cornell students. The organization and its members state they are dedicated to nonpartisanship and democratic engagement, specifically on college campuses.
Cornell Votes’s President Elena Woo ’24 opened the celebration by discussing the recent launch of Cornell Votes’ website, a resource for Cornell voters that includes details about students’ options for when and how to vote.
Throughout the event, board members listed recent initiatives and collaborations that support this common goal. Rahul Verma ’24, the community engagement department chair and liaison between Cornell Votes and the Student Assembly, described the creation of the Voter Ambassador Program — an initiative launched in October that was designed to maximize voter registration and foster campus partnerships. This program supports both club members’ and outsiders’ participation in civic engagement activities by assigning them a leadership position and training sessions to learn more about their role in maximizing civic participation among students.
Alicia González ’24, Cornell Votes’s communications department chair, discussed the success of the Voter Ambassador Program and other recent initiatives, as well as the increased engagement and membership the club has seen throughout the year.
“2023 has been a year of growth for both the general body membership of Cornell Votes and our impact and reach as an organization,” González said. “This year, we welcomed an increase in our general body membership from 48 members in [the] spring of 2023 to 88 members this fall. We’re excited to see continued growth as we near the 2024 presidential elections.”
Verma, who also serves as the director of elections in the S.A., applauded the increase in voting participation in S.A. elections throughout the spring and fall of 2023. Freshman engagement has met record low turnout rates in recent years, with only about 14 percent of eligible freshman casting their vote in October 2022.
“Under Cornell Votes’s amazing partnerships, we’ve been able to increase freshman engagement with Student Assembly elections to roughly 30 percent, so about one in three freshmen were involved in elections,” Verma said.
Josh Weiner ’24, the coalition department chair of Cornell Votes, spoke to the organization’s initiatives to increase voter turnout in state and nationwide elections as well. He discussed the organization’s collaboration with the White House, explaining how the voting rights team in the Domestic Policy Council noticed Cornell Votes’ impact on campus and contacted the organization earlier in the semester to talk about incentives for engaging student voters nationwide.
Perdita Das-Humphrey, the Hans Bethe House Assistant Dean, received the staff civic champion award. Since Cornell Votes’s founding in 2020, it has partnered with the West Campus housing system, helping establish Alice Cook House as a polling location for Cornellians living on campus in 2022. Das-Humphrey discussed the importance of this collaboration.
“Cook House is actually the on-campus voting location,” Das-Humphrey said in an interview with The Sun. “All of our service centers are spaces where people can pick up voter registration cards and mail them.”
Weiner also described Cornell Votes’ collaboration with Phi Alpha Delta, a pre-professional, pre-law fraternity. The organizations held a joint fundraiser to raise money for the Ithaca Advocacy Center, which provides aid to those who have experienced domestic violence in Tompkins County.
Select Cornell Votes members and separate organizations dedicated to the club received awards during the event — including Phi Alpha Delta, which was granted the coalition partner of the year award. Several Cornell Votes general body members also received awards for their dedication to the organization.
Lastly, the executive board presented a new award to Joyce Muchan, Cornell Votes’s advisor. The award, which she received for her dedication to social justice and democracy on campus, was named in her honor. Muchan thanked the board for their acknowledgement and hard work behind the scenes of civic engagement at Cornell.
“I wanted to thank the Cornell Votes board — ethically and morally, you always do the right thing,” Muchan said. “When people are trying to get us to not be nonpartisan or vote in ways that are unethical, you stand your ground and educate in ways that need to be done. And that’s not easy.”
Camille Simmons ’25, who currently serves as Cornell Votes’ vice president of finance, concluded the event as the incoming president of the organization. Simmons previewed the club’s plans for increasing voter participation in 2024.
“As we begin to transition the organization’s leadership, our primary goal is to prepare for the 2024 presidential election in the fall,” Simmons said. “Some of our preliminary goals are to increase our partnerships with student athletes and pre-professional organizations while continuing to maintain our current amazing partnerships.”
In an interview with The Sun, Lucia Caravella ’26 — Cornell Votes’ incoming communications department chair — stressed the group’s dedication to nonpartisanship.
“Politics especially can be super divisive on campus, so with this club being nonpartisan, I feel like it opens it up as a safe space for us to work together towards the common cause of engagement,” Caravella said. “I feel like we don’t talk about issues specifically, we just talk about people voting, which is so important, and the Cornell Votes executive board members stress their dedication to nonpartisanship. It’s such an important part of democracy.”
Olivia Holloway ’25 is a Sun contributor and can be reached at [email protected].