How important is it to vote?

Date: March 2017


Dear Deans,

The union election seems to be approaching. I’ve had a few recent discussions with my peers, and some of them are not sure if they should vote. Some feel indifferent, others are graduating soon. How important is it to vote? How can I convince them to participate in the election?


Concerned Graduate Student


Dear Concerned Graduate Student,

Thanks for your Ask a Dean question. 

It is the right and responsibility of every eligible voter to cast a ballot in a union representation election. The results of the election will be determined by a majority of votes cast, not a majority of eligible voters, and the election result will be binding on all graduate assistants – currently and into the future. 

In the October, 2002 Cornell graduate union representation election, 88% of eligible voters cast a ballot. Of the 2,318 graduate students who were eligible to vote in that election, 2,049 ballots were cast; 1,351 ballots (66%) were cast against union representation, 580 (28%) were in favor of union representation, and 118 ballots were not counted due to irregularities. 

Other schools have had lower voter turnout. In the recent election at Loyola University Chicago, only 120 out of 210 eligible graduate assistants (57%) voted, with 71 voting for the union and 49 voting against it. Somewhat more than half of the eligible students voted, but the voting outcome is binding on all graduate assistants. 

If you are graduating soon, consider the privilege of voting is your responsibility to influence the future of the graduate experience for those who follow you as graduate students at Cornell. The question of union representation for graduate students will be decided by a simple majority of ballots cast. A decision not to vote is a decision with consequences. Votes matter.

Eligible voters at Cornell include about 250 from Humanities and Arts, about 500 from Life Sciences, about 980 from Physical Sciences and Engineering, and about 500 from Social Sciences. The results of the vote will be binding on all 2,200+ eligible voters, no matter if voting is concentrated in a few disciplines. No individual, department, or discipline can opt out of the voting outcome.

Please encourage all eligible voters who you know to get the facts, participate in balanced discussions about the issues of union representation, and cast an informed vote on election day.

Warm regards,


Barbara A. Knuth
Senior Vice Provost and Dean of the Graduate School