For several months, Wayne State University students and faculty have known they will have ample time to go to the polls on Election Day this November. The university announced Election Day as an campus-wide holiday in February and has since received praise from members of the Wayne State community. Recently, University of Michigan students have been active in trying to implement a similar policy in Ann Arbor.
LSA sophomore Lindsey Haughton and Public Health graduate students Ben Brennan and Nina Masters told The Daily about their plans to garner support among University students, faculty and staff for this policy which would make Election Day a University holiday this year. As of Wednesday, their survey has 461 responses, 143 being faculty members. Individuals can express interest in specific jobs such as registering voters, working polls on Election Day and other virtual opportunities to assist locally in the form.
As a Public Health graduate student, Brennan spoke about the risks of in-person voting not only for voters, but also for the staff working at the polls amid the pandemic.
“We saw it as a year where Election Day was a public health risk for people,” Brennan said. “If you have people going all at the same time, you just pack people into polling locations or the clerk’s office. Almost every polling location around the country has older people (working) and it’s also a public health risk for those people.”
Brennan said that giving students the day off would directly impact public health in the local community.
“If we give these kids the day off … they can work all day and relieve the burden of the older people working at the polls,” Brennan said.
Haughton remembered serving as a volunteer in the March primary election and the long lines that resulted from students waiting until after classes finished to go to the polls.
“At the end of the day when the students were finally done with all of their classes and commitments, their line was so long,” Haughton said. “I was there handing out snacks and trying to keep people enthusiastic in line but in terms of COVID, we don’t want there to be a rush at the end of the day, and not everyone is going to vote absentee although we may wish they would.”
Masters emphasized the crucial need for poll workers in the area and said student volunteers could be a reasonable solution to this problem.
“There’s going to be 500 to 1,000 workers needed in Ann Arbor and that does not address the shortages that are happening in surrounding areas,” Masters said. “We kind of felt like there was a problem that was being presented and a solution that could hopefully address it.”
Haughton also noted how volunteers are extremely important as Michigan state law does not allow absentee ballots to be counted until Election Day.
“By law, Michigan clerks are not allowed to open absentee ballots and start counting them until Election Day,” Haughton said. “They’re going to need a crazy amount of manpower to count those ballots.”
University spokesperson Kim Broekhuizen told the Daily in an email that while the University is aware of the proposal, they encourage students to vote absentee.
“We are aware of the survey and appreciate ideas from faculty and students on ways the university can encourage positive civic engagement,” Brokehuizen wrote. “With the unique challenges of the pandemic, it is likely safer for members of our community to vote using an absentee ballot. This has already been the norm in past years for our large portion of out-of-state students who are away from home on Election Day. That said, the university is involved in initiatives to promote and encourage voting, including the Big Ten Voting Challenge.”
While many people plan on voting using absentee ballots, Masters said this day would provide more flexibility for students choosing to vote.
“We hope that this provides maximum flexibility and access to democracy for students and that people don’t really focus on that there is absentee voting and that we might not really need this, this is just a complement to that, it’s not instead of or mutually exclusive,” Masters said.
Brennan and Masters are both stewards of the Graduate Employees’ Organization and said the organization expressed overwhelming support for the resolution. The GEO support would be utilized if the University Central Student Government pushed the resolution to the administration.
Masters said that while these organizations are important to getting the resolution passed, their focus is currently on garnering faculty support.
“The key thing that we’re going to need here is strong faculty support,” Masters said. “The more faculty support we have the stronger of a case (we) can make that this is feasible and that people are willing to reorganize their schedules for this.”
Dr. John Schwarz, a former U.S. congressman, former Michigan state senator, Ford School of Public Policy lecturer and University alum, told The Daily in an interview he supports the idea of canceling classes on Election Day.
“I think it’s a good idea,” Schwarz said. “I held office for many years at the city level, the state level and the federal level, so I’ve gone through a lot of elections (many) of them as a candidate.”
Schwarz said that while he was surprised to find that many students follow politics closely, he is not surprised to see many students do not vote.
“One of the things that has always stuck with me is that many students are very interested in politics,” Schwarz said. “Many students follow politics, have strong opinions about political issues, but a lot of students don’t vote. They don’t vote because basically it’s just inconvenient.”
Haughton said that while a multitude of undergraduate student organizations have met this proposal with excitement, the University’s chapter of College Republicans said they were not interested.
“We’ve been met with a lot of positive reactions,” Haughton said. “… I was really disappointed in (the lack of support from College Republicans) because it was supposed to be a bipartisan (or) nonpartisan thing. There has been support among conservative faculty, we have reached out to people who are former GOP members and they have enthusiasm. It should be a bipartisan or a nonpartisan initiative and we really want it to be.”
In an email obtained by the Daily, College Republicans chairman Ryan Fisher expressed concern about voting without necessary information.
“I don’t believe our executive board can get behind this initiative, it is not something we so broadly support,” Fisher said. “We think this gives way to voting just because, as opposed to informed voting. Perhaps the largest threat to democracy is an uninformed electorate…”
Schwarz, who now considers himself an independent, served in Congress as a Republican member. He acknowledged the response from College Republicans and emphasized the importance of encouraging eligible voters to go to the polls as a nonpartisan issue.
“It’s defensive and it’s not factual at all,” Schwarz said. “One of the things that the Republicans have done for years is to try to suppress the vote. That Republican position is simply a voter suppression position.”
Haughton emphasized the importance of not just voting, but also being informed and involved with the democratic process on Election Day.
“The debate isn’t happening anymore so we need at least one day where the whole school, whether you can vote or not, is thinking about these things,” Haughton said. “There’s so much going on right now and I think it would be a really good thing if we could think about the election, talk about the election, research candidates and get involved for that one day.”
Summer News Editor Sarah Payne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org