Is there a reason the upcoming union election will NOT be held electronically?

Date: March 2017


Hi Deans,

I’m writing with a very genuine and what I think is a simple question. I wasn’t sure who exactly it should be directed to, so I thought that I would send it here.

My question is this – is there a reason why the upcoming union election will NOT be held electronically? It seems to me and several colleagues that this is an active decision that will likely affect the outcome of the vote (especially given the statistics, about what happened at Loyola University, that you passed along in your communication to the faculty).

If elections regarding student trustees can be handled electronically, it seems that the infrastructure exists to do something similar for the union election. It also seems like it may take more time and effort, in terms of planning, execution, and participation, to hold an in-person election instead of an electronic one.

I’m very curious to hear your thoughts on this matter.


Genuine Graduate Student


Dear Genuine Graduate Student,

Thanks for your Ask a Dean question. 

The May 2016 Agreement between CGSU/AFT/NYSUT and Cornell regarding pre-election procedures calls for a “manual ballot” for an election conducted by the American Arbitration Association (AAA). At the time of negotiating this Agreement throughout Spring ’16, Cornell was not aware that the AAA has the capability to conduct a sophisticated, secure, encrypted online voting process that encourages higher voter participation because of the convenience of allowing voters to vote from their location of choice. 

All of the Cornell members of the Agreement negotiating team have confirmed that online voting was not explored during the Spring ’16 process of crafting the Agreement because they did not at the time have knowledge that AAA had such capacity; they do recall that the methods of on-campus manual ballots and mail ballots were discussed. (I was not a member of the Agreement negotiating team.)

When Cornell learned recently that AAA does have an online voting capability, we asked the Union, within the Union-Management Committee discussions, whether they would be interested in exploring the possibility of an online voting process to decide if it might work for the Cornell context. In asking that question, we acknowledged that the Agreement would have to be modified, because the Agreement does call for a “manual ballot” and we were ready to engage in negotiating and approving the small change to the Agreement wording that would entail.

At the Union-Management Committee, however, a Union representative noted that because the CGSU membership had democratically voted on the original Agreement, the CGSU membership would again have to democratically vote on and approve the revised language, a process she described as “arduous.” I appreciate her commitment to democratic process; however, I was expecting the organization might be nimble enough to be able to respond to new opportunities while using democratic process.

The CGSU member has posted her own views about this online voting opportunity on the CGSU website, so that would be another source of information for you. In part, she writes, “During our agreement negotiations last year, CGSU discussed the logistics of our election with Cornell, and we decided on in-person, on-campus voting instead of a mix of in-person or other methods, such as online voting. I was part of those negotiations.” As noted above, all Cornell members of the negotiating team have confirmed that online voting was not explored during the negotiation process, because it was not known at that time that AAA had that capability.

We encourage all eligible voters to exercise their right and responsibility to vote on election days.

Warm regards,


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