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Calls grow louder for Election Day holiday on college campuses

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Mike Moen

(Minnesota News Connection) To keep college students engaged with the voting process, creating an Election Day holiday for campuses is being floated. At least one Minnesota school is going that route again this fall amid calls nationally for similar moves. At Temple University in Pennsylvania, students are circulating petitions to not hold classes on Election Day. In Minnesota, Augsburg University declared such a holiday for the 2020 vote, and the school's Rachel Farris said they are now doing so for each fall election. College students are often surrounded by civic debate and outreach efforts, but Farris said awareness about voting does not always reach them.

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"Overcoming the information hurdle and making sure students know all the options available to them if there are hurdles that will get in their way of actually showing up on Election Day," Farris said. "So, how do I vote in advance? How do I move by mail?"

And amid higher college costs, the need for more part-time jobs to afford tuition is seen as another barrier. In 2020, the average student voting rate for all colleges and universities in the U.S. was 66 percent. Those findings are from the National Study of Learning, Voting and Engagement, which is part of the Institute for Democracy and Higher Education at Tufts University.

Farris said making the Election Day holiday permanent aligns with Augsburg's mission to educate educated citizens. She added having this day off is not just about motivating people to cast a ballot.

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"It also allows all the people in our community time and space to assist others in voting - whether as poll workers or by volunteering to transport people to the polls. So, it's about a deeper level of engagement," Farris said. 

On the national level, supporters of the movement acknowledge there is not as much urgency this year as there was during the 2020 election cycle. They say that is why it is important for schools to at least have plans in place to help students vote if classes will still be held.