Make Election Day a noninstructional holiday to boost student civic engagement

UNIVERSITY AFFAIRS: Institutionalizing Nov. 3 as a systemwide holiday would heighten political action

Illustration of three people at voting booths, with a background image of election day circled on a November calendar.
Jericho Tang/Staff

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On Nov. 3, voters will submit their ballots in person, by mail or in drop-off boxes across the country. Those votes will determine which way districts, states and the country will swing. But because Election Day falls on a Tuesday, faculty and staff will be working and students will be in class.

This week, the ASUC endorsed making Election Day a noninstructional holiday. UC Berkeley School of Law has already acted, leaving Nov. 3 open for its students. The entire UC system must take this vital step in a vital election by creating a free day for all students, staff and faculty to vote. 

Voter turnout for young adults has historically been dismally low. However, there has been a recent shift. In the 2018 midterm elections, voter turnout among college students doubled from 2014. Given that this presidential election is the first in which most of Generation Z will be able to cast ballots and that millenials and Gen Z will compose the biggest, most significant share of eligible voters this year, the youth are raring to vote

This shift in civic engagement may have manifested from the virality of civic action through social media or just mountains of political frustration, but either way, young adults will turn out. And as a public institution predominately serving youth, UC Berkeley and the entire UC system must capitalize on this political fervor and give students the time to vote. 

UC Berkeley could supplement the free day with a weeklong, Campus Conversation-esque civic engagement event. A series of voluntary, public talks about current political issues from representatives and political scientists would be informational not only for students but for the Berkeley community as well.

Informational sessions about items on the Alameda County ballot — including equally important local offices and boards, local measures and state propositions — would also develop the political understanding of participants. Discussion-based seminars for participants would aid in the exploration of current events and salient issues while also introducing students and citizens to the perspectives of those around them, fostering an open political culture on campus. 

Furthermore, the university has a vested interest in the 2020 election: Over the summer, the UC Board of Regents unanimously endorsed Propositions 14 and 16. If the UC system truly desires the passage of these initiatives, it must ensure that students are able to act and vote on them. In addition to enabling students to vote, the UC system should also clear the day for its faculty and staff so that every campus’s entire community can participate in our democracy. 

This election cycle has been unlike any other. The turbulence in the country and the world also makes this election more important than any other in recent memory — there has never been a more apt moment to fight for structural change. Please, vote.

Editorials represent the majority opinion of the editorial board as written by the fall 2020 opinion editor, Katherine Shok.