The Graduate Student Council (GSC) certified Monday’s general election results, setting the stage for the student government to transfer power over to the next legislature. Wednesday night’s meeting was the current council’s last before the new council is sworn in next week.
The certification comes in the wake of historically low voter turnout across the board, and especially within the graduate student body. The record-low turnout within the graduate student voting population, which fell between five and seven percent for amendments on the ballot, was also responsible for the failure of general constitutional amendments — six of which surpassed the two-thirds margin needed to ratify yet failed to reach the 15% quorum of both undergraduate and graduate students to pass.
Additionally, the 8.73% turnout for GSC elections factored into the election of five write-in candidates — one third of the council — each of whom received fewer than five votes.
The GSC has struggled to gain visibility within the graduate student community, a problem exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s tough for the graduate population to know what the GSC does in an academic year,” said councilor Brooks Benard, a fourth-year cancer biology Ph.D. student. “When it comes to a remote year, it’s even more difficult to interact with the GSC in that way.”
Without the typical social interactions between the GSC and the student body, which raise awareness about the council’s work, motivation for voting could be diminished, Benard added.
The certification of the results teed up the transition of power to the incoming council next week, which will serve in a “new era of Stanford that has a lot of potential to be very transformative,” according to outgoing GSC co-chair Will Paisley ’20 M.A. ’21. The certification received seven votes in favor, and four abstentions from councilors who were re-elected to the GSC.
Councilor Sanna Ali, a fourth-year communication Ph.D. student who ran unopposed for re-election, voted in favor of certifying the results. The certification verifies that the results are valid and correct.
“By certifying the election results, we are approving the will of the people and saying that the election went through in a fair and just way,” said Kari Barclay, the outgoing GSC co-chair and a fifth-year theater and performance studies Ph.D. student.
Still, there remain several unanswered questions about who will fill some of the seats in the next council. Within the School of Education, two write-in candidates tied for the seat with two votes each. Barclay said that both candidates contacted the GSC and voiced their willingness to share the seat. There is no precedent for two councilors sharing a seat, however, and the council did not reach a determination about whether that option would be exercised or even legal.
One newly elected candidate, fourth-year bioengineering and biomedical engineering Ph.D. student Camilo Ruiz, attempted to withdraw his candidacy but missed the deadline and remained on the ballot. Barclay said that if Ruiz drops out, one of the tied candidates within the School of Education may be able to fill the vacant at-large seat on the council. The current council will make a determination on the tie before the councilors are sworn in.
It is also unclear whether all of the victorious write-in candidates will join the council. Benard, who did not officially run for reelection but was written in and won, will continue to serve.
“It’s been a real pleasure meeting people here and getting to understand how things work at a more Stanford-wide capacity,” Benard said. “It’s been an atypical year and I think it would be nice to serve in this capacity in a more in-person role as things open up.”
Neither Barclay nor Paisley, this year’s co-chairs, ran for reelection, and new co-chairs will be elected by the council during next week’s meeting. Paisley said he sees the upcoming year as an opportunity for the council to make a significant positive impact on the graduate student community.
“I hope the new council can be an integral part of the graduate student experience in both advocacy efforts, social life, redefining new Stanford traditions, creating new Stanford traditions and fostering a community where all graduate students feel like they can belong and thrive at this University,” Paisley said.
The GSC also held a closed session for part of the meeting where councilors discussed internal financials of revenue sources, expenditures and predicting the next year’s budget, according to Paisley.