By CAMERON ASHLEY
On Nov. 6, the Virginia General Election will be held. This is a time for all voting-eligible citizens to let their voices be heard. However, they only have from six in the morning to seven at night on this one day to actually do so.
Daily life can be an obstacle for many people to be able to make it to the polls. According to the United States Elections Project at the University of Florida, the voter turnout rate for Virginia in the 2016 General Election was only 66% and, in 2014, the nationwide voter turnout rate was only 36%. There is a large percentage of Americans whose voices are not being heard and cannot exercise their civic duty by voting- and that can hardly be considered democracy. With the lack of voter participation in recent years, Election Day should be made a federal holiday.
Undoubtedly, students are busy. With classes, jobs and extracurriculars, it can be hard to find time to eat lunch, let alone to vote. With Election Day falling on a Tuesday this year, I fear it will greatly impact voter participation- especially amongst students. For me, Tuesdays are my busiest days. I have class from 9:30 in the morning to 8:45 at night, with maybe an hour break here and there. On Election Day, I won’t be concerned about voting, but worrying about getting to class on time.
Voting is a civic duty, and student votes are valuable. “Without classes in the way, it makes it easier for me to get myself to a polling place in order to vote. If I have classes, I am going to be more focused on that,” said sophomore Sarah Parker, a women and gender studies major.
Some universities have already cancelled classes on Election Day, like Columbia University, Clemson University and the University of Montana. UMW should follow suit.
“[College] isn’t a paying job. We are paying to be here and get our education. I would think that if enough students want the day off, the school should work around us and we should be able to have that,” said sophomore Emmie Michaelkiewicz.
In an effort to help make this change possible on the UMW campus, a petition has been circulating. It states its goal is “to have classes canceled on Election Day for the projected year of 2022.” The petition was started by a group called CHANGE, an unofficial club of UMW students and staff that meet regularly on campus. CHANGE shared the petition by conducting class visits and asking students to send it out to their friends as well.
Marina Castro-Meirelles, creator of the petition, said, “I wrote the petition because I believe Election Day should be a federal holiday. We obviously can’t make that happen at Mary Wash, but that doesn’t mean we’re powerless. There are [sic] a series of steps UMW can take to make voting easier for its students and the residents of Fredericksburg, the boldest of which is the cancellation of classes on Election Day to give folks a chance to fulfill their civic duty.”
Assistant professor of psychology Dr. Laura Wilson sent the petition to her students, encouraging them to support the mission. “For students to truly be equipped to make meaningful contributions in society, we need to support and encourage them to make their voices heard through one of the most powerful tools they have– voting. I want to provide the opportunity for any interested student to fully participate in our democracy. I see this petition as directly supporting the mission of the University of Mary Washington and my philosophy as a professor,” said Wilson.
However, one issue with making Election Day a federal holiday is that people in service sector jobs would likely not be given the day off. People with government jobs and white-collar workers, however, likely would. This is would lead to an imbalance of voter diversity in terms of social status and affiliation. In order to counteract this, I propose to enact something that the state of Hawaii is already doing.
According to the state of Hawaii’s Office of Elections, “Voters are entitled to a maximum of two consecutive hours off from work, excluding lunch or rest periods, in order to vote.” They are still paid during this time slot as long as they keep their ballot stub as proof. If they don’t vote, then employers have a right to deduct that day’s pay. This would allow businesses who can’t afford to miss a day’s worth of profit to give their employees time to vote.
Election Day is vital to all Americans so they can voice their opinions. Democracy is the basis for this country, yet a low percentage of Americans participate in it. We all live very busy lives and it is hard for us to remember how important voting actually is. If we dedicate an entire day where everyone goes and votes, then a higher voter turnout could soon become reality. If students are unable to vote and participate, then it is not democracy. In order to achieve this, Election Day should be a federal holiday where everyone, including non-government workers, get time off to go out and vote.