As Election Day draws nearer, some students and professors are calling on the University to cancel classes on Election Day to encourage students and faculty to take the time to vote.
However, the University has seemingly already made up its mind. In a statement to The Cavalier Daily, University spokesperson Brian Coy stated that the University will not be canceling classes, noting that students have 13 hours of polls being open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. in which they can vote alongside early voting, which ends on Oct. 31.
“The University encourages all students to exercise their right and responsibility to participate in elections happening wherever they are registered to vote,” Coy said. “Given the adjustments we have made to the fall academic calendar due to the pandemic, we will not be canceling classes on Election Day.”
Student Council, University Democrats, Young Democratic Socialists of America at U.Va. and the College Republicans have all come together to create a pledge asking faculty not to hold exams on Election Day.
“Many students every year are forced to choose between last minute exam preparation or participation in the political process. We believe that no student should feel that they are unable to vote due to academic worries,” the joint pledge states.
Fourth-year College student Andrew Dymon believes that having class on Election Day in a semester without time off would be unfair.
“Class needs to be canceled on Election Day because we need to do our civic duty and vote in the election,” Dymon said.
As far as Dymon knows, his professors aren’t making any accommodations to allow students to vote on Election Day.
Around 70 professors have signed the pledge to not give exams on Election Day, as well as more than 100 students signing in support. A similar pledge circulated in 2018 by Student Council, University Democrats and College Republicans had over 70 faculty members signatories.
The faculty signatories come from multiple disciplines, though most are within the College.
Third-year College student Lauryn Nilson originally had two classes on Election Day — one class was canceled and the other is occurring, although attendance is optional. Nilson says she is lucky that her professors have made these accommodations, but that she is disappointed that the University administration hasn’t canceled classes.
“I think it would be incredibly stressful to have to go and vote, and then worry about missing class time or worry about missing instruction,” Nilson said.
Professor John Holbein shared an email with his fellow professors in the Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy and on Twitter to call for classes within Batten to be canceled on Election Day.
“I see canceling class on Election Day as the least I could do to help remove the barriers in the way of students voting,” Holbein said.
However, according to Coy, schools like Batten School of Public Policy or the McIntire School of Commerce cannot make the decision to cancel classes on their own. Provost Liz Magill is in charge of such a decision.
In general, Holbein was critical of the University’s perceived inaction in helping students vote. Holbein had many suggestions for the University, including texting students reminders about why voting is important and providing incoming students with voter registration forms.
“U.Va. should do much more to help their students to register to vote, in particular. Many young people are dissuaded from voting simply because they find voter registration burdensome and confusing,” Holbein said.
Nilson believed that online learning provided an opportunity for professors to be flexible with their class schedules on Election Day. For examples, professors could decide to either make their lectures asynchronous or move them to after the polls close.
“Some of the most important learning occurs outside of the classroom. Voting is a great opportunity for advancing the mission of the Batten School to train the next generation of young people who are actively involved in Democracy,” Holbein said.
This year, University Democrats says that it would enthusiastically support a University policy that cancels classes or disallows exams on Election Day.
“This year's election is incredibly consequential for young people and universities should do everything possible to encourage and protect voting, in particular as COVID-19 makes every aspect of the college experience more difficult,” UDems communications chair and second-year College student Jackson Postal said.
Postal noted that the University, mostly through student-self governance, has taken some steps to support students’ ability to exercise their right to vote. Postal said that the University could increase its efforts, though.
“The University could always do more to help students vote, such as [provide] concrete information as to where student's polling places are — especially because dorms are split between Albemarle County and Charlottesville City — greater efforts at student voter registration, and the cancelation of classes on Election Day,” Postal said.
College Republicans did not respond to requests for comment.
In Virginia, polls are open on Election Day from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. Everyone in line to vote by 7 p.m. must be allowed to vote.
In-person early voting will end on Oct. 31. Residents of Albemarle county can vote early at the County Office Building and Charlottesville City residents can vote early at the City Hall Annex.
Between in-person voting on Election Day, absentee voting and early voting, Coy says the University is confident that students will be able to vote.
“With this wide range of options, we are optimistic that students, faculty and staff can find the time necessary to vote early, absentee or in-person on Election Day this year,” Coy said.