Julia Nagel / Sun Staff Photographer

Materials created by Cornell Votes that were available in the Mann library on Election Day. Various new groups cropped up on campus to encourage civic engagement — the latest is a call to make Election Day a University holiday.

November 4, 2020

S.A. Calls for Cornell to Make Election Day a Holiday

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On Tuesday, student body presidents from 22 universities released a joint statement urging their respective institutions to designate future election days as official university holidays. 

The statement — Cornell’s addressed to President Martha E. Pollack — was written in conjunction with universities including Yale University, Harvard University and Brown University. Student Assembly President Cat Huang ‘21 signed on behalf of Cornell.

Issuing this statement shows that we understand the importance of elevating the student and community voice in advocating around federal higher education policies that directly affect students and stakeholders at Cornell,” Huang said. 

Concerns for working students, long wait times at polling locations and pre-existing academic responsibilities all are blockades for college students trying to vote. The writers named the holiday a way to curb these difficulties and increase turnout amongst college students, the writers asserted the importance of establishing this holiday. 

“While we recognize that the responsibility for alleviating the burden for long wait times fall primarily on state and election officials, we feel that our universities nonetheless have a responsibility to act in accordance with how things are rather than how they should be and do everything in their power to help students vote,” the statement read. 

The statement went on, urging Cornell to follow in the footsteps of other undergraduate and graduate institutions who cancel all classes every Election Day. One specific example that was cited was Northwestern University’s Pritzker School of Law, which designates Election Day as a “day of civic service.” 

“For future election days, we hope that universities will give students across the country the time to spend this day not only voting, but serving as poll workers, assisting community members in reaching their polling organizations, instructing and educating community members or voter registration and voter processes, and most importantly, encouraging and reminding every member of our community to vote!,” the statement read.

As for Cornell’s implementation of this measure, Huang understands that it may take time for the proposal to be enacted, as the academic calendar is revisited every five years. In June, the University gave faculty and staff the day off for Juneteenth, the oldest national commemoration of ending slavery in the United States.

Despite possible obstacles, Huang believes initiating the discussion can now help ensure that the proposition will be considered for years to come.

We should not be allowing students’ ability to vote or not vote to be determined by the leniency or generosity of individual professors,” Huang said. “It’s our responsibility and obligation as engaged citizens to vote, and Cornell administration should support its students and community members by declaring Election Day a University holiday.”