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U.Va. to still hold classes on election day despite petition

Students request absence leniency Nov. 4; administration maintains original schedule

Despite lobbying by some students, the University will not cancel classes on Election Day, because it believes students’ flexible schedules allow ample opportunities to vote. Student Council, however, is continuing efforts to contact faculty members, requesting that they grant leniency to students who are unable to attend class because they cannot vote at another time.

Council has joined up with the University Democrats, College Republicans and third-year College student Colleen Clark, who is circulating a petition about the issue, to spread the word about student concerns regarding their ability to vote on Election Day.

Recently, Council passed a resolution granting Council members permission to contact faculty members about the issue, and in the past week, members have been getting in touch with the deans of each school, said Patrick Dorsey, legislative affairs committee chair and author of the resolution.

“We’d like to enlist the support of the deans if we can,” Dorsey said. “A message from the dean carries a certain amount of weight. We’re also going to approach faculty members at the individual level if that becomes necessary.”

Dorsey noted that Architecture School Dean Karen Van Lengen has sent out a letter to all of her faculty, notifying them of the issue. He said he has not received word from anyone objecting to the resolution at this point.

Clark, whose petition initially called for classes to be cancelled on Election Day, has changed her stance to follow the position taken by Council’s resolution. Student Council President Matt Schrimper said all those who had already signed the petition were notified that the language of the petition had changed, but few people retracted their signatures.

As a volunteer, Clark said she finds the petition important as part of a broad effort to spread the “get out the vote” message to students. The petition also serves the purpose, Clark said, “to make a statement to the faculty and the administration as a formal means of being respectful,” she said. “We might miss your class, but we want to do so in a respectful way.”

She said a rise in voter registration and student activism led her to start the petition. “I like the fact that we are starting to show more passion [about politics],” Clark said. “I see college students as a potential untapped resource for volunteering and helping out in the electoral process.”

She also noted that students are on their honor to sign the petition honestly. For those who might not do so, Clark said, filters have been put in place so no e-mail or names can be repeatedly added to the petition.

Clark said her long-term goal is to have classes cancelled on Election Day by the next election, readjusting the academic calendar to do so.

University spokesperson Carol Wood said the academic calendar is determined by a committee, usually two years in advance, noting that unless there is a hurricane or a bad snow or ice storm, classes are not cancelled. Even in those cases, “we rarely cancel classes,” she said.

Wood also noted that most students’ schedules are more flexible than the schedules of people with full-time jobs, including much of the faculty, who must vote before or after work.

“It is unnecessary to cancel classes because students have so many options for getting to voting locations on Election Day either through fellow help from student groups or from the flexibility of student schedules,” Wood said, adding that students could also vote ahead of time or by absentee ballot.

Fourth-year College student Marta Cook, a former Cavalier Daily Opinion columnist, has been working since the summer to ensure students are able to get to polling locations on Election Day. She said a bus will be running from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., stopping at the Alderman Road and McCormick Road residences and the University Chapel before traveling to Alumni Hall and University Hall, both of which polling locations.

Cook said she believes offering students some leniency is a good compromise.

“It doesn’t make any sense for the university founded by Thomas Jefferson to dissuade students from getting involved in what is the biggest political day of every four years,” she said.

Economics Prof. Kenneth Elzinga, who will give a test to more than 1,000 students on Election Day, said students have opportunities to vote, noting that there are not classes before 8 a.m. and that he will personally be going to vote at 6:30 a.m. He said he does not “have a lot of sympathy” for those who are unwilling to inconvenience themselves in such a way as getting up early. Elzinga cancelled his normally scheduled class because of his 5:30 p.m. test, and he said students could vote during that time. He noted that of his many students, hardly anyone has voiced any concern.

“In one sense, for me this is a non-issue,” he said. “I have had no one come up to me and say, ‘This is preventing me from voting.’”
Art History Prof. Paul Barolsky expressed a sentiment similar to Elzinga’s.

“Why would a student not have taken care of absentee ballots since this is something that has been known forever,” he said; however, if it came down to voting or not, Barolsky said he would offer some leniency.

“If some student said to me ‘Oops I screwed up, I didn’t register for an absentee ballot’ and then they wanted to go off and vote, I wouldn’t stand in their way,” Barolsky said.

According to the Charlottesville Voter Registration and Elections Web site, absentee ballot applications must be received by the Voter Registration Office by 5 p.m. Oct. 28, and the polls will be open Nov. 4 from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.


Published October 23, 2008 in News







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