Election day must be an excused absence to encourage student voting

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Photo Credit: Brittany Le | Daily Texan Staff

Have you noticed the campaign posters that decorate the entrance to the Perry-Castañeda Library? Have you been stopped by someone offering you an information packet on a candidate running for election? If so, then you know what time it is — voting season! Last Friday, Feb. 28 marked the last day of early voting. Tuesday, March 3 — or Super Tuesday— marks the official voting day for the 2020 primary election.

It is important that everyone ensures their voices are heard by voting. TX Votes, a nonpartisan student organization, works hard to ensure students are registered. Anthony Zhang, chemistry and public health junior, explained how TX Votes works to increase student
involvement in elections.

“The main things we (focus on) are voter registration and voter education,” Zhang said.“We register hundreds and hundreds of students in classrooms. We got invited to move in … (where) lots of freshmen are getting their new addresses … we can register them at their new address.”

However, even with all the groundwork done by students, even by explaining the importance of voting and even with opportunities for early voting, persuading students to go and vote is easier said than done. In 2019, only 12% of registered voters turned out to approve amendments to the state’s Constitution. In 2018, the voting rate among UT-Austin’s registered students was 54.8% when it should ideally be much closer to 100%.

It is time to expand the conversation from focusing solely on getting students registered to vote and instead figure out how to get students more engaged in the election process. But how do we get more students to show up to the polls?

Well, some professors at the University of Pennsylvania believe they have the answer. In an effort to increase voter turnout, professors at the University of Pennsylvania are “giving extra credit and excusing absences” for students who go and vote. Excusing absences for students who miss class due to voting is a simple but effective step in ensuring all students have the ability to vote.

English associate professor Elizabeth Richmond-Garza explained that she would support excusing student absences with some conditions.  

“I would excuse an absence for any official activity that was part of a student exercising their full legal rights,” Richmond-Garza said. “Students would need to let me know in advance that they will not be present and to follow up with me or their TA on what they had missed.”

Other professors oppose the idea because students are given many opportunities to vote early. I understand their view, as early voting did last over a week, but due to schedule conflicts or simply not planning ahead, many students are not able to utilize early voting opportunities.

Voting early was an issue even for me. I went to the PCL on Friday after class planning to vote early. I knew that the lines would be long on Tuesday and wanted to avoid the long wait time. However, I did not anticipate the line that greeted me at the door as I entered the PCL. Even during early voting, wait times can be extensive, so simply encouraging students to vote early does not solve the problem. If voting was an excused absence, students would have more time and be more willing to wait in these lines.

Besides, what about students who want to vote in their home cities or states? Some students may prefer to vote in their home district because they want to specifically impact that area. While students can get an absentee ballot, the rules surrounding this process are often confusing. Due to these regulatory steps, many students may feel discouraged to undertake the process of receiving an absentee ballot. 

Voting is one of the main channels of advocating change within our communities. If we truly want our students to be leaders and promote change, we must encourage students to participate in all opportunities of civic engagement— voting being one of the easiest methods.

We must make the voting process as seamless and as easy as possible and ensure all students have the opportunity to vote, whether on campus or at home. Allowing flexibility in attendance could go a long way in promoting this kind of change.

Dear students, your voice has power. Utilize it during this election season.

Williams is an international business junior from Fort Worth.