Editorial: Cancel Class on Election Day

(AJ Peterson / The Triton)

You shouldn’t have to think about whether or not you have time to vote. This November 8, class should be suspended to prioritize something more important. To vote is to engage with the real decision-making process of the world, to channel your learning into a meaningful outlet. We attend college for an education, but what good does it do to be cut off from the world outside the ivory tower?

This is not a new idea.

In 2015, The Daily Californian advocated for this very same idea and over the last several years, numerous lawmakers have proposed to make Election Day an official national holiday. Most of our national holidays are symbolic – we get Veteran’s Day off school to honor those who have served in the military, but most of us don’t do anything in particular on Veteran’s Day. Election Day is different.

Just in the last year, the University of California (UC) has made significant strides in improving students abilities to participate in the political system. A recent memorandum of understanding (MOU) between UC President Janet Napolitano, Secretary of State Alex Padilla, and Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom details how the State and the UC Office of the President can work together to increase “efforts that will result in students having an even greater voice in the democratic process.” More specifically, they are looking for ways to make it easier for students to register to vote, understand what they are voting for, and be involved in the civic process.

These forward-thinking moves are important, but why give us the tools to participate if we don’t have the time to use those tools? According to the 2014 “University of California Undergraduate Experiences Survey,” 40.9 percent of UC students commute between one and five hours to get to campus, 34.1 percent took more courses due to the financial cost of the institution, and 33.2 percent spend 11-15 hours in class.

The more students are doing, the more difficult it is for them to take time out of their day to vote. If students are commuting, working a job, and going to class, when exactly are they supposed to find time to vote? This would disproportionately affect students who struggle financially and need to work to be able to stay afloat. Why should they have to struggle more to make time when a solution is readily available?

Student Organized Voter Access Committee Executive Director Liam Barrett pointed this out in a recent op-ed, noting that elections directly impact the “quality of your college experience, including UC funding, scholarships, and tuition costs.” Such choices, whether made now or in another election season, should not be discouraged due to classes.

The MOU signed by President Napolitano sets aside complacency in the student voice for hope and a belief that students should have a strong say in their future. It validates that state educators and leaders should “provide students the tools they need to take action and participate.”

We certainly appreciate the tools – but those tools mean nothing if they can’t be used when the time calls for it. Classes should be cancelled on Election Day: there should be no midterms, no homework deadlines, and no lectures. The University granted staff paid time off for election day and the Chancellor sent out an email to staff encouraging them “exercise your right to vote as citizens of California”; they are aware that time can be a limiting factor in voting, and that line of reasoning should be extended to students as well.

Our university education is crucial; we know that asking to cancel a day of school is no small request. And yet, one of the of the most important values of our education is that it prepares us for the world beyond the bounds of university. Civic engagement is part of what it means to be an adult, and voting is the quintessential act of civic engagement in our democratic society.

Voting Day should be a national holiday. Yet, at the moment, it is not one; in the absence of big steps, let’s take little ones. We challenge our administrators to go beyond press releases and take a firm stance: cancel classes on election day.

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