As America gears up for a monumental election, students across the nation are petitioning their universities to cancel classes on Election Day. Last week, UNC student leaders released a statement asking for a pause in classes on Election Day to allow students to exercise their right to vote on Nov. 3.
The group of students, which includes representatives from the Commission on Campus Equality and Student Equity; Undergraduate Student Government; and Graduate and Professional Student Federation, among others, mentioned systemic barriers for low-income students and marginalized workers, as well as the difficulty of voting early during a pandemic, as specific concerns.
The Editorial Board echoes their demands. While we recognize that electoral participation is not the ultimate solution to an unjust system, it is nonetheless important — particularly at the state and local level. However, the burden of academic and employment obligations can disincentivize voting, making it exceedingly difficult for students to find time to cast their ballot on Election Day. And, without a fall break this semester, early voting may not be an accessible option for many students, either.
Millennials and Gen Z comprise 37 percent of the voting population, yet the U.S. has one of the lowest youth voter turnout rates in the world. Colleges and universities have an obligation to ensure that work and academic commitments do not function as yet another form of voter suppression and disenfranchisement imposed on marginalized students and workers in this country.
On Friday, however, Vice Chancellor for University Communications Joel Curran said the University won’t be able to make Election Day an academic holiday due to the “greatly compressed academic calendar.” But some schools, such as Elon University, preemptively chose to pause classes on Election Day when creating this year’s academic calendar. Out of consideration for students, faculty and staff, UNC should do the same in years to come.
Now, given the University’s supposed inability (read: unwillingness) to pause classes on Election Day, the Editorial Board urges professors to make the necessary accommodations to allow their students to vote without penalty. We can't afford to sit this election out. Adjusting due dates, making attendance optional or canceling class on their own authority are just some of the ways that professors can ensure students can make it to the polls this year.
Voting should not be a privilege reserved only for those who can afford to make sacrifices elsewhere. To exercise our right to vote without being punished for breaking other commitments shouldn’t be too much to ask.
Editor's note: Wondering how to cast your ballot? Check out The Daily Tar Heel Election Center for in-depth election coverage.