Making time to vote on Election Day may be difficult, but getting to the polls this Election is more important than ever.
Several things hold people back from voting by the time Election Day comes around. Anything, from losing interest or a sense of unimportance, to, sadly, voter suppression, have been known to prevent the vote of countless Americans in recent history. However, one factor that many seem to forget that does, indeed, hold people back is Election Day itself — particularly where it falls on the calendar. Election Day is held on the first Tuesday in the month of November or the first Tuesday after Nov 1. Unlike countries such as South Korea and Malaysia, Election Day is not a national holiday in the United States. Even here at Whittier College, our doors will still be open come Election Day, with many students and faculty having to balance school and voting on Nov. 6.
Let’s first take a look at this debate over Election Day, which has been brewing for some time now. As Beau C. Tremitiere, the Editor-In-Chief of the Northwestern University Law Review, put it, “Voting on Tuesday was a good idea in the 1800s.” We are no longer farmers that need to travel days to reach our polling place, yet folks can barely afford a day off on their ever-increasing work schedule. Though we have modernized, our electoral process has largely stayed the same. In 2006, Pew Research Center found that 12 percent of intermittent voters said they were “sometimes too busy” to vote. Intermittent voters are a key swing demographic in elections. They do not always participate in elections, so their votes could change the outcome. However, eight percent of intermittent voters find it difficult to get to the polls, which could be what is between them voting or not.
“The demands of school and work schedules keep millions of Americans, especially those with children or long commutes, from ever getting to their polling stations,” said Tremitiere. Many now see our voting day as another way of disenfranchising many in our society, like working class people who may not be able to get the time off to cast their vote. According to the Census Bureau, the top reason given for not voting in 2008, 2010, 2012, and 2014 were all “too busy.” This argument has taken legs in the form of a bill, proposed by Senator Bernie Sanders, to make election day a national holiday. Calling it “Democracy Day,” Senator Sanders already has nearly 90,000 co-sponsors, although these are only civilians and not actual elected officials.
Some are more skeptical about whether this change would even help our voting process. As Suzanne Lucas, a freelance writer for Inc.com noted, a federal holiday wouldn’t even help those in need. She argues, “You know what doesn’t shut down for federal holidays? Retail. Restaurants. Hospitals. Smaller businesses that can’t afford to lose a day of revenue, and if they do, they certainly can’t afford to pay people for the time off.”
For most students, voting in the upcoming midterm elections should not be too much of a struggle. With polls closing at 8 p.m., Whittier College students should have plenty of time after classes end to get over to their polling place and cast their ballot, as classes end by 4:20 p.m. and resume at 7 p.m. for night classes. Little is to be expected around Campus on Election Day, so make sure you mark your own calendars. Graduate students or those with evening jobs may struggle to find time to run off and vote. Thankfully, as the Government Accountability Office pointed out back in 2014, voting in California should only take about 8 minutes, so most hopefully will not be stuck at the polls like other states such as Maryland, which could take around 30 minutes.
Some of the College’s professors are looking to do more than just vote — they want to help their students. Professor of Sociology Elizabeth Miller asked herself, “What can I do to help and make [voting] a learning experience?” Professor Miller suggested professors help drive students to the polls, or even make it an assignment for their class to prove they voted. Professors have been instrumental in the work done in the weeks prior to Election Day to get people engaged. Just last week, Associate Professor of Political Science Sara Angevine played an important role in getting Congresswoman Linda Sánchez to Campus for her Women in U.S. Politics class (See pages 3 and 4 for more on the talk.) Professor Angevine also partnered with Assistant Professor of Social Work Laurel Brown to help register students to vote prior to the Oct. 22 registration deadline. Also, the Richard Nixon Republican Club hosted Congressional candidate Joshua Scott this week. (See page 4.)
Few professors are prepared to cancel their own classes on Election Day. Just one look at her class syllabus was all Professor Miller needed when trying to make a decision on if she should cancel her classes. This makes sense, as professors should not have to be required to make up for the College’s decision to keep the doors open on Election Day. While there is no federal holiday for the College to observe at this point, it is also worth noting that, even if there was such a recognized day, the school would be under no requirement to observe it. Like the restaurants and retail shops Lucas noted, Whittier College is also a private institution that chooses not to observe numerous bank holidays.
Still the point has to be made: why hasn’t Whittier College moved to make Election Day a holiday? We are a relatively small community, but as is stressed by so many, every vote counts. Memories of the 2016 election are still fresh for some on Campus. I myself remember waking up the day after the election with such a sense of confusion and disbelief. Still, that feeling was even worse for many that day, as the guilt of skipping out on the polls began to sink in.
One liberal friend of mine was nearly silent the whole day after watching his home state of Pennsylvania turn red, after he chose not to participate. There was a collective feeling of “we should have done more” to prevent such a terrible day from coming. But two years have passed, and we are now ready to vote again. Yet, it feels like as far as this Campus is concerned, little has been done to prepare for another such day.
One fear is that with the continuing sense of business as usual, little is in the way of Nov. 11, 2016 being recreated here on Campus in two weeks time. Whether it is closing for the day or helping students reach local polling places, one would at least hope that the College has asked themselves what more they could do.