UC community calls for noninstructional holiday on Election Day

Voting
Josh Kahen/File
The current UC policy is to allow up to two hours off for staff to vote if they are scheduled to work at least eight hours that day, according to Miyako Iwata, director of the ASUC Vote Coalition.

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A letter asking the UC Board of Regents to deem Election Day a noninstructional holiday for all UC campuses has been signed by more than 1,000 UC students, alumni, staff and organizations.

The current UC policy is to allow up to two hours off for staff to vote if they are scheduled to work at least eight hours that day, according to Miyako Iwata, director of the ASUC Vote Coalition. She added, however, that students do not have a similar policy, despite having many other obligations that may discourage voting.

“Students who have to vote in person or choose to vote in person should not be penalized for doing so, nor should they have to choose between attending classes and going to the polls,” said Elizabeth Grubb, Cal Berkeley Democrats president and author of the letter, in an email.

According to Grubb, many students have to manage school, jobs and other responsibilities on Election Day, a reality that causes low voter turnout among college students.

She added that due to the pandemic, many campus students are still at home in various states that may have different rules on voting.

“We want to fight for this day, not just to bring down barriers to voting, but also to support those who don’t have the luxury of voting by mail,” Iwata said.

ASUC Senator Ronit Sholkoff, who wrote the ASUC resolution in support of this initiative, said having a noninstructional day on Election Day would allow students to not stress about making it to classes or taking tests.

These obstacles, in addition to long lines and concern about postal services, contribute to young voters being one of the biggest populations that are unable to vote, ASUC President Victoria Vera said.

“While one vote may not seem that important, many elections are decided by margins of just hundreds of votes,” Grubb said in an email. “Casting one’s vote could very well be the margin of victory.”

It will be difficult, however, for the campus Academic Senate to implement the initiative into this year’s academic calendar because it is already set, according to ASUC External Affairs Vice President Derek Imai.

James Weichert, one of the chiefs of staff for ASUC Academic Affairs Vice President Nicole Anyanwu, said removing an instructional day requires an additional day to be added to the calendar elsewhere to “level things out,” which would require a lot of time and coordination with campus administration.

According to campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore, UC Berkeley is still planning to have instruction on Election Day. She added, however, that campus is encouraging instructors to avoid scheduling midterms near Election Day and students to vote early, by mail if possible.

Though having a noninstructional Election Day this year may not be possible, supporters of the initiative are also focusing on institutionalizing this policy across the UC system. Iwata highlighted the 2022 midterm elections, as the academic calendar for that year has not yet been set.

“At its most basic level, (voting) is what we can do to have a voice in determining our future,” Sholkoff said. “Voting is our chance to play a part in determining what kind of future we want to build and what kind of country we want to live in.”

Maria Young is a higher education reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @maria_myoung.

Correction(s):
A previous version of this article incorrectly spelled Miyako Iwata’s name.