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The best way for UMBC to fight voter suppression? Cancel classes on election day.

Election day is fast approaching, and the youth vote has never been more important. In line with understanding the gravity of the moment, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County needs to cancel classes on election day, Nov. 3.

Historically, the United States has been tainted by voter suppression, hitting communities of color especially hard. According to USA Today, “Black and Hispanic people, on average, waited 45% longer than white people to vote in 2018, according to a study by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University.” The least that UMBC can do is give students the day off in order to vote, volunteer and generally stay up to date on the election.

The importance of voting is something UMBC clearly understands, with the Center for Democracy and Civic Life urgently encouraging students to register to vote. But the hypocrisy of our university urging the student body to vote, but not going one step further to give students the day to engage with the democratic process is absurd. It does not matter how many “cast your whole vote” campaigns UMBC puts in place, students who have work and school will be less likely to actually vote than if they had the day off. 

Actions speak louder than words, UMBC. Give students and faculty the day off.

The day after the 2016 election is a day every young person remembers. Many people of color stayed at home, fearing hate speech and violence. This is an incredibly high-stakes election, and the ramifications of the results have the potential to be dire. For many of us, the harrowing and convoluted nature of this election reverberates within our conversations with friends and family. Considering election day a holiday will allow students to truly focus on the democratic process as it happens.

In addition, each university has the opportunity to compensate for the fact that the federal government does not designate election day as a federal holiday. The best way to fight voter suppression is to make voting easier for students. For those who live out of state and are choosing to vote in-person, students will have to allocate travel time, skipping class or playing a Zoom class while driving. By allowing students the day off, UMBC will show that completing our civic duty comes first. 

In a New York Times piece, Alexandria Symonds explored the reasons young people don’t vote with as much fervor as other age brackets. One of those reasons was the opportunity cost. Young adults often “have less flexible employment schedules or less financial cushion to take time off to vote, or who may be in temporary housing situations where they lack deep community ties.” Part of the solution is clear: knock down the barrier to voting by giving students the day off.

President of the University of Maryland, College Park, Darryll J. Pines shared on Twitter that he and the Provost asked faculty to “provide flexibility for students voting, working as election judges, or volunteering on Election Day. This extends to attendance and due dates, while aiming to avoid major assignments, exams or presentations on Nov. 3.”

But we are asking that the UMBC administration go one step further to fully invest in the civic duty of this institution. The decision should be an institution-wide one, not based on individual faculty members’ decisions. While the pandemic has complicated the voting process, this year we have the opportunity for professors to record their lectures and allow students to access the class asynchronously. 

The 2020 election is a momentous occasion. We have the ability — and the responsibility — to go above and beyond. American University, Brown University and countless others have announced that they will be cancelling classes and closing their offices on Nov. 3. UMBC should follow suit.