By Diana Zhu
DAVIS – On Jan. 14, the ASUCD Senate Resolution #6 passed, deeming Election Day as a Non-Instructional Holiday at UC Davis.
This resolution addresses the low student voting turnout, including reasons and facts behind these numbers.
According to the resolution, the following were the reasons:
Among 32 countries, the U.S. ranks 26th for voter turnout. In the 2016 presidential election, 55.7 percent of the American voting-age population cast ballots, while Belgium reported 87.2 percent of their voting-age population cast ballots in their most recent national election.
In a 2016 study among registered voters, being “too busy or having conflicting schedules” was the third-highest reason cited for not voting, accounting for 2.7 million people who did not cast a ballot.
College-aged voters have been historically underrepresented in Election Day voter counts because of course-induced time constraints and restrictions.
Not all college students have equal access to participating in the democratic process due to factors such as student-parenting roles, necessary jobs and familial obligation, which could mean not having access to a polling station or having the time to meet the hours-long waiting periods as seen in the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections.
ASUCD said mail-in ballot voting is not an equitable practice for college students because students may not live long-term in the address marked on their voter registration forms.
Adding to the barriers are students who are penalized for any absences.
The resolution also stated that studies have shown that voting at a young age increases one’s likelihood of voting in future elections.
The University of California prides itself on being “committed to helping our community participate in the civic process” and asserts “Democracy thrives when we’re all engaged”, thus, the University of California entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with the California Secretary of State to increase student civic engagement, including voter turnout.
In 2019, Governor Gavin Newsom signed California Assembly Bill 963 to the Memorandum of Understanding, stating that “the Secretary of State, in partnership with the California Community Colleges, the California State University, and the University of California, shall conduct a program to be known as the Student Civic and Voter Empowerment Program,” which further supports an action plan put forth by the students of each campus “to increase civic learning and democratic participation, with an emphasis on civic engagement, voter turnout, and community building.”
While these plans proved to increase rates of student voting, the plan and Memorandum of Understanding did not fully eradicate the barriers students face to cast their ballots because of course penalties.
UC Davis had a singular on-campus polling site in the 2020 presidential election, which was on the second floor of the Memorial Union building, and this had the potential to have students endure long lines, forcing them to choose between voting and course attendance.
One student was lucky to have been able to be one of the first ones in line. By the time she left the polling site, the line of students had wrapped around the stairs to the first floor.
She said many people that saw her walk out with her “I Voted” sticker would stop her to ask how long she was there, and they continued to express their worry that they would miss class.
She said students hoped it would take less than an hour, but it seemed the further back someone was in the line, the longer it was going to take.
The campus voter coalition, Aggies Vote, saw an increasing number of requests from full-time students about information in regard to absentee ballots, including them being sent on time.
Despite the worries, the November 2020 general election saw a record number of 1,485 new voter registrations at UC Davis, showing an increase in civic participation on campus.
On top of this, many institutions have already declared Election Day to be a non-instructional campus holiday.
Numerous higher education institutions including Columbia University, the University of Hawaii Manoa, Brown University and the Community College of Philadelphia have all declared Election Days to be non-instructional campus holidays.
The resolution said various student leaders at higher education institutions including Stanford University, UC Berkeley and Harvard University have all passed resolutions in their student governments calling for Election Day to be regarded as a non-instructional campus holiday.
The resolution stated that the UC Student Association is carrying out the UC We Vote campaign that is pushing Election Day’s classification as a non-instructional holiday across the UC.
Having Election Day as a non-instructional campus holiday would free up time for more students to vote, therefore mobilizing present-day voters and increasing their likelihood to participate in democracy in the future.
According to the resolution, “The ASUCD as a whole will holistically prioritize increasing voter registration and civic engagement in collaboration with initiatives and organizations such as the campus Government and Community Relations Office, Aggies Vote Campus Voter Coalition, the Office of the External Affairs Vice President, and the UCWeVote Campaign.”
There were no finance appropriations, and the resolution was amended with the majority vote.
Diana Zhu is a fourth-year transfer student from Rancho Cucamonga, CA. She is majoring in Chinese and minoring in Professional Writing.
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