Penn State trustees governance committee wants to entice more alumni to vote

mdawson@centredaily.comJanuary 16, 2014 

— Penn State trustees want as many alumni as possible to vote in the election this spring.

The board is considering sending a personal note to more than 582,000 alumni, either through email or a postcard, to notify them about voting or about requesting a ballot. The change, recommended by the board’s governance committee Thursday, will go before the full board on Friday.

The proposal would be a big change from the way things are being done now — active Alumni Association members and donors from the past two years and those who voted in the previous election are the ones who automatically get a ballot.

In this year’s election, trustees Marianne Alexander, Jesse Arnelle and Joel Myers are up for re-election, but all three said Thursday they hadn’t yet decided on what they would do.

The reason the board is considering changing the process is to broaden participation. Over the past two election cycles, the turn-out had been record-breaking, with 37,563 alumni voting in 2012 and another robust turnout in 2013 when 33,777 alumni voted.

The elections were landslides for candidates who campaigned on platforms critical of the way the board handled the Jerry Sandusky scandal and those who were anti-NCAA and anti-Freeh report.

Last year, Barbara Doran, Ted Brown and Bill Oldsey unseated two incumbents, including former football player Paul Suhey. The year before, Anthony Lubrano, Ryan McCombie and Adam Taliaferro won seats.

But the turnout, despite the record number of ballots, still is just a fraction of the number of alumni who are eligible to vote.

If the change is approved, Penn State will email the 309,000 alumni who have a valid address on file. The rest, some 273,000, will get postcards with instructions about voting.

The administration had looked at expanding the number of people to receive the automatic email to cut down on the staff hours needed to respond to inquiries for a ballot. Tom Poole, the vice president for administration, said the proposed approach will reduce efficiency but should yield more voters.

Trustees Keith Eckel and Keith Masser said the proposal was good idea.

Trustee Richard Dandrea said the turnout under the proposed change will show just how many people are interested in the election.

“The people who are interested — we have their email address, most likely,” Dandrea said.

The 2014 alumni election cycle started Wednesday, as the university sent out nomination ballots to those active alumni, donors and people who voted last year. Alumni who want to be on the election ballot have to get 50 nominations by Feb. 25.

So far, five alumni have announced they are seeking nominations: state Sen. Robert Jubelirer, former football player Ted Sebastianelli, former Centre County commissioner and district judge Keith Bierly, Class of 2002 graduate Ryan Bagwell and 2008 graduate Dan Cocco.

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