Students across the United States are calling on their colleges and universities to cancel class on Election Day to enable them to vote and volunteer in a “historic” election.
Tamir Harper, a student from American University in Washington, DC, started the movement on Twitter. He sparked an email campaign and a petition which saw his school finally relenting. American University announced Monday that they will cancel classes on November 3.
I’m calling on @AmericanU to cancel classes on Election Day and allow students to vote in person and work the polls!
— Tamir Harper (@TamirDHarper) September 20, 2020
Chris Suggs of the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill launched a similar campaign. Suggs understands it is a difficult proposition, but even if he cannot convince the school to cancel classes, teachers already agreed to let students take time off to vote.
In addition to American University, other colleges like Brown University, the University of Utah, and Colorado College have canceled classes to allow students to vote. The University of Illinois also declared Election Day a holiday, while the University of Kentucky included it in their official schedule.
While some universities have been able to adhere to students’ requests, other institutions were unable to do so. Those schools mainly cite the pandemic already compressing the academic calendar as a reason.
The University of Pennsylvania, for example, did not declare an academic holiday for the elections and has been criticized by student groups from both parties. Penn for Biden co-chair Cassy Ingersoll wrote a letter on behalf of students, saying they feel the administration “is not doing enough and not really listening.” The sentiment was echoed by the College Republicans’ Executive Board.
Associate Director for Education Jen Canose responded on September 11, explaining that the school is bound to the federal holiday schedule and that they are also accountable to “regional and state accrediting bodies” to maintain class time, which led to their refusal to grant another holiday.
Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia also received requests from students who wanted to volunteer as poll officials. Most poll workers in previous elections were over the age of 61, but this demographic is now at risk.
As students are expected to step up, Emory University has launched the Emory Votes Initiative which encourages students to “get involved.” They direct students to organizations where they can volunteer.
.@UNC should cancel classes on Election Day.
— Chris J. Suggs (@chrisjsuggs) September 20, 2020
However, despite this initiative, students still proposed to make Election Day a holiday. They cited the low turnout of both campuses in the 2016 election (41 percent in Atlanta and 28 percent in Oxford). While this is an increase from the 2012 turnout, it is still lower than the national average of 53.4 percent.
In the 2016 elections, the college-aged demographic (18 to 24) had low voter turnout at 48.3 percent, according to an analysis from Tufts University. While it was an increase from 45 percent in 2012, still only less than half of college-aged Americans went to the ballot box.
Harper, Suggs, and other students are now seeking to improve this number, and they believe canceling class will make voting more accessible.
With additional challenges during this particular election, exercising the right to vote has become more difficult, with campaigns to relieve students from missing class to vote gaining significance.