The University of Michigan made state headlines last Tuesday as students waited six-plus hours to register and vote in the midterm elections. With many students citing difficulties in making time to vote amid class schedules, this year’s midterm election has reignited conversations around canceling classes on Election Day to encourage democratic participation.
Public Policy junior Sophie Hart voted absentee to avoid the lines, but said she believes implementing an academic holiday would not only give U-M community members more time to vote but also demonstrate the University’s commitment to democracy and voter participation.
“I think it’s a small type of voter suppression when you have to wait in a four-to-six-hour line just to vote, especially for college students that are busy and have classes and might have had to miss their classes for it,” Hart said. “The (University) should cancel all classes on Election Day because I think it’s a good precedent to set up, and just shows how important the University of Michigan sees voting and political efficacy.”
Community members, including members of Central Student Government, have previously advocated for canceling classes on Election Day. In 2017, CSG passed a resolution calling on the University to cancel classes in advance of the 2020 presidential election following similar changes at peer institutions.
LSA junior Kareem Rifai, CSG communications director, told The Michigan Daily in an email that CSG President Noah Zimmerman and Vice President Jackie Hillman would support a renewed push to cancel classes on Election Day.
“The President and Vice President would be supportive of an initiative in the CSG Assembly to make classes optional on Election Day,” Rifai wrote. “Students should not have to wait for hours to practice their civic duty because of their class schedules.”
Though students have made efforts to increase voting accessibility in the past, University spokesperson Kim Broekhuizen told The Daily over email that the University’s Board of Regents sets the academic calendar several years in advance based on a baseline requirement for the number of instructional days in a given semester.
“The decision on whether to hold classes on any particular day is determined as part of the university’s process for approving academic calendars, which are submitted to the Board of Regents by the provost after they are vetted by faculty and administrative groups,” Broekhuizen wrote. “The calendars are created to ensure that there are nearly 70 class days for each of the fall and winter semesters and that the class days are distributed roughly evenly among the days of the week.”
In 2020, the University partnered with the city of Ann Arbor to open a satellite city clerk’s office in the University of Michigan Museum of Modern Art (UMMA), making it the first office of its kind on a university campus in the state. The UMMA polling location, which returned for this year’s election, saw lines stretching as long as six hours on Tuesday. A second pop-up city clerk’s office also opened at the Duderstadt Center this year.
Broekhuizen said the University is committed to encouraging student voter participation through the satellite office and other informative campaigns to encourage students to vote early and across the country.
“We know it’s not feasible for many U-M students to vote in-person at their home polling location on Election Day,” Broekhuizen wrote. “Additionally, options to vote early in Michigan with an absentee ballot up to 40 days before an election provide ample time to cast a ballot. For those reasons, the university has chosen to focus its voter engagement efforts on educating the community on early voting options, as well as voting not just in the Ann Arbor area, but throughout the state and across the country.”
LSA junior Sofia Tosi volunteered weeks in advance and on Election Day for the Creative Campus Voting Project, a program created by the School of Art & Design to increase student voter participation. The project worked closely with the UMMA and the city clerk’s office to design the UMMA gallery where the satellite office was located.
In an email to The Daily, Tosi said she noticed most students in line at the UMMA on Election Day had not yet registered to vote. Though she believes canceling academic instruction on Election Day would make the registration process less stressful for students, Tosi said she also encouraged students to take advantage of absentee voting.
“In terms of canceling class on Election Day, I do think it would really help a lot of first-time voters especially since everyone in the lines at the UMMA and the Duderstadt were people who had not yet even registered,” Tosi said. “Another solution to the lines would be to maybe advertise that you would be able to skip the lines by voting (absentee), but we can only predict how students will respond.”
The state of Michigan allows voters to request and fill out absentee ballots any time within 40 days of the election, which has included Election Day since 2018.. Passing with 60% of the vote, Proposal 2 from this year’s election will also establish a nine-day early voting period in the state.
Washtenaw County Commissioner Jason Morgan, who will take office as a state representative for the 23rd District on Jan. 1, and U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich, publicly offered on Twitter to personally call professors on behalf of students who missed class or exams to vote. Morgan told The Daily he wanted to ensure students did not suffer academic consequences for taking time to vote.
“I wasn’t aware that everyone in the world seems to have known about the line at the University of Michigan on Election Day,” Morgan said. “In that moment that evening, all I was thinking about is ‘Well, I hope that professors believe these students as they say they had to wait three, four, five, six hours in line to register and to vote on Election Day.’”
Morgan said though no students took him up on this offer, his position as an instructor at Washtenaw Community College led him to believe professors may not be understanding of students missing class.
“I suspected that there’d be at least one professor who somehow missed everything that was going on, and would be upset with a student,” Morgan said. “If a student just doesn’t show up to your class on any day, whether it be Election Day or not, you usually are a bit suspicious as to why they aren’t there. And so I just wanted to make sure, coming from one instructor to another, that we were there for the students in case they needed it.”
Public Policy junior Cayla Klein said some Ford School of Public Policy professors were flexible on Election Day, not only modifying class structure but actively encouraging students to be politically engaged.
“The Ford School of Public Policy is particularly unique in that our professors have been talking to us about this for weeks,” Klein said. “I know a handful of professors that have canceled their classes today or made them optional or put them online to help students who want to stand in line and vote today.”
Hart also added that two of her public policy classes were canceled — one on Election Day and one the day after to give students the ability to attend the school’s panel debrief on the midterm results. Though Hart voted absentee in her hometown, she said these cancellations allowed her to support her friends who were waiting in line to vote.
Lisa Sauve, intermittent lecturer in the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, said while the class she teaches does not meet on Tuesdays, she had two students who were late to class the day before the election because they were waiting in line to register. Sauve said she believes the University should cancel class on Election Day to remove any academic obstacles to voting, but more broadly believes Election Day should be a federal holiday.
“I believe that Election Day should be a federal holiday to make it much more possible for everyone to access time to vote — just between transportation and working and childcare and all sorts of other hurdles in life, making time to vote on a single day can feel difficult,” Sauve said. “I think that being able to cancel classes on a Tuesday seems like a pretty efficient way to allow a large body of voters to have a smoother opportunity to vote in our election cycles.”
Sauve added that she believes faculty should continue to advocate for increased access to voting, both to the University administration and the city of Ann Arbor.
“I just want to thank all the students who stayed in line, and showed up to vote,” Sauve said. “The more we, as faculty, can support that and help push the administration and our community to make voting easy and available to the students — I think it’s a small effort that we can do (out) of gratitude for their participation in democracy.”
Morgan said he hopes to collaborate with local and state officials to prevent long lines in future elections.
“My hope is to convene a meeting with University staff, the city of Ann Arbor and the clerk’s office, the State Bureau of elections, the Secretary of State’s office and perhaps some of the Governor’s team and myself to have a conversation about what happened on that day, and how we can absolutely make sure that it never happens again,” Morgan said.
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