As this year’s election day approaches, the issue of University faculty holding exams Nov. 5 has resurfaced. Last year, Student Council urged University faculty to refrain from holding exams on Election Day.
Student Council and other politically-affiliated Contracted Independent Organizations argued in 2018 that exams on election day impede voter turnout in students, urging faculty members to sign a petition that would lead to the end of this practice.
Although over 70 professors signed the petition in 2018, some professors refrained from making that commitment. As a result, both University Democrats and College Republicans have expressed concern over the political impact of holding exams on Election Day.
The concern is that aside from attending classes themselves, an impending exam on election day can add undue stress and impede voting as students feel pressure to use their free time that day to study rather than to commute to a voting location.
Fourth-year College student and president of the University Democrats Jackson Samples said that “election day exams are a significant barrier to voting.” He added that Virginia is ranked 49 out of 50 in terms of access to voting.
“U.Va. students already face a multitude of obstacles to voting, including a lack of same-day voter registration, six separate precincts that encompass student housing, a convoluted absentee voting process, and voter ID laws, among others,” Samples said.
Samples went on to urge faculty members to “play their part” in making voting more accessible and straightforward for students, not only by refraining from holding exams on election day but also by asking “all professors share election information with their students and encourage them to vote.”
Similarly, College Republicans President Matthew Nalls expressed disappointment regarding the occurrence of exams on election day.
“This bars students from an opportunity to practice the freedom that makes our country special — many practicing it for the first time,” Nalls said. “This is an opportunity to teach students the importance of voting.”
This plea has been heard in part by Economics Prof. Kenneth Elzinga. Elzinga, who teaches two 500-person sections of microeconomics regularly holds an exam on Nov. 5 but chose to make an announcement in class reminding students of the importance of voting.
When asked to elaborate on his decision to hold exams on election day, Elzinga stated that he does not believe this academic commitment on Nov. 5 should impede student voter turnout.
“Elections in the U.S. typically are not holidays. That is, millions of people both work and vote — I’m among them. U.Va. treats students like adults — in that student can attend class and they can vote, just like many other adults go to their day jobs and vote,” Elzinga said.
Additionally, Biology Prof. Paul Adler, who teaches “Genetics for Informed Citizens,” made it an assignment at the beginning of the semester for students to register to vote. At the conclusion of the class’s first unit, all students were again asked if they had registered as the final question on the unit 1 test.
According to University spokesperson Brian Coy, the University’s official policy maintains that although voting is encouraged among all University students, “the decision about whether to hold tests or exams on Election Day rests with individual faculty members.”
“While there are understandably many factors that professors must take into consideration when scheduling exams, elections must be one of them,” Samples said. “With this context of disenfranchisement in mind, we must be aiming to make voting easier wherever we can, and U.Va. faculty can play their part by moving exams to a date that isn't Nov. 5th.”
Coy also noted the 13-hour window open at polling places along with the option to cast an absentee ballot and free transportation available through Car2Vote — a local, independent, nonpartisan service that provides transportation to students who otherwise would not be able to vote — which should assist students in exercising their right to vote. These services provide access to a number of student voting locations such as Slaughter Recreation Center, University Hall and Buford Middle School. Since 2016, Student Council has partnered with University Parking and Transportation and Car2Vote — with 1,053 students taking advantage of the shuttle to University Hall in 2016.
All 100 House of Delegates seats and all 40 Senate seats are up for election Tuesday, providing an opportunity for students of age to vote. In 2018, 41 percent of Virginia voters ages 18-35 voted in the midterm elections, which was 21 percent more than the 2014 midterms. 2,325 total votes were cast at Slaughter in the 2018 U.S. congressional race for Virginia’s Fifth District seat between Republican candidate Denver Riggleman and Democratic candidate Leslie Cockburn.
In Virginia, polling places are open Tuesday, Nov. 5 from 6:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.