Sept. 4, 2020 | By Bennett Okun | Illustration by Fred Perticucci
On Election Day, colleges need to cancel classes so students can serve the nation’s interests by being poll workers. Without younger people taking on the essential work normally done by senior citizens, many Americans could be disenfranchised.
Presidential elections require the participation of everyday citizens to ensure our democracy functions. The job of a poll worker is to set up and take down the polling station, to help voters understand their rights, and to protect the ballots and voting equipment.
According to the Pew Research Center, in the 2018 midterm election, 58 percent of poll workers were aged 61 and older. This year, because of the coronavirus, many elderly poll workers and volunteers will be unable or unwilling to work at voting stations. Students and young people need to pick up the baton to make sure that our democratic system continues.
Colleges and universities across America should cancel classes on Election Day so their students do not have to choose between their studies and helping in our electoral process. There are 20 million college students in the U.S. who would make great poll workers and this year more than ever many of them would be excited to be a part of this historic period.
A student can be a poll worker in the state they are registered in, whether their college classes are being held on campus or online. The key is not having classes on Election Day.
Not having classes on Election Day, indeed not having any work at all, is common practice in developed countries. Of the 37 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development member states, the U.S. is one of seven that does not have its Election Day on a weekend or a national holiday. As such, our nation’s democratic process relies heavily on people who don’t work or go to school, usually elderly individuals. That won’t work this year.
Colorado College is located in the relatively small city of Colorado Springs, which most likely won’t need the help metropolitan areas will require. Major cities, like Denver, will need our help to make sure the democratic process is carried out without any hiccups. In addition to not having classes on Election Day, schools need to give students Monday off so they can travel to large cities to work at polling locations the next day.
The practice of giving students time off from college to engage in the electoral process dates back decades. Mike McCurry, former White House Press Secretary to President Bill Clinton and Co-Chair of the Commission on Presidential Debates, recalled when Princeton University excused its students for 10 days before a national election so they could participate in the campaign process.
“In 1972, just as the 26th Amendment was about to take effect giving me the right to vote as an 18-year-old, I was out in New Jersey and Pennsylvania volunteering on George McGovern’s campaign for President. That experience stuck with me throughout my career in public service,” said McCurry. He added, “Now, in the midst of a pandemic, it’s a great idea for all colleges to give their students time away from class to be able to participate in the electoral process, especially given the great need we have for younger poll workers.”
More recently, students at Loyola Marymount University (LMU) were given the day off for the midterm election of 2018. That year, law students and professors from LMU went to the polls to assist people and answer questions about voter rights. This year, we will need much more.
More schools across our country have to give their students the ability to be active in the political process so they can get the unique opportunity to work at polling locations, an experience they might not otherwise have until much later in life.
Turnout this year could reach record numbers. Students across the country need to act now to make sure that everyone is afforded an equal opportunity to vote. COVID-19 has required colleges to cancel so many classes already with such detrimental effects. On Election Day, let’s cancel classes to achieve a positive one.