Last year, I attended a Stavros Niarchos Foundation Agora Institute event called “Civics and The Future of Democracy” in Washington, D.C. at what was formerly the Newseum. The interactive seminar included several panels, one of which was a panel of deans at higher education facilities.
One of the speakers on that panel was our own University President Ronald J. Daniels. After the event, I approached Daniels to introduce myself and tell him about some of the work we were doing as part of the Hopkins Votes ambassador program.
Daniels agreed resoundingly with me on the need for expanded voter education efforts across the school. We were both aware of the somewhat disparaging eligible voter turnout rate of 55.8 percent at Hopkins in 2016 and knew that we could do so much better. In fact, to emphasize his personal desire to illuminate voting efforts across the school, he recently had the Hopkins Votes website relocated from its former place on the Student Affairs website to its own University-wide domain.
On the bottom of the front page of the site reads a quote from Daniels himself: “At a moment when democracy is under strain, it is more important than ever that we all use the vital skills and tools — especially the vote — to sustain it.”
As a Hopkins Votes ambassador, I couldn’t agree more. The responsibility lies with all employers and administrators across the nation to declare Election Day a work or school holiday — including Hopkins.
Speaking solely for myself, Election Day lies on the most inconvenient day of my academic week. I have class from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and I often have club meetings that spring up in the evening with short notice. I don’t have my own form of transportation, so if I were to vote in person, I would need to rely on public transit to get me to the polling place (and we all know that in Baltimore, one doesn’t always fare well with public transit. Thanks, Gov. Larry Hogan).
Luckily, I am registered to vote in a state that provides widespread mail-in voting to all those who need it. I will be submitting my ballot far ahead of Election Day to make sure that it is counted with plenty of time to spare.
The schedules of Hopkins students and staff vary, and unfortunately, some of them probably look a lot like mine. If a student has a packed schedule and must vote in person on Election Day, to force them to miss a class so that they can vote is unnecessary and unjust. Students and staff can vote early or vote by mail to ensure that this problem is sidestepped, but this places a somewhat undue burden on them, when in reality it is their right to vote how they please.
Some states do not allow mail-in voting without an accepted excuse, like living away at college on the date of the election. For the great deal of our student population who are still living at home during our entirely virtual semester, this excuse has vanished.
Not all students have access to personal or public transit. Individuals may also not consider public transit a safe and viable option during a pandemic. Furthermore, the situation at in-person voting stations across the country is bound to be hectic and delayed by safety precautions due to the coronavirus pandemic. The wait times in lines at polling places cannot be predicted ahead of time, so the time commitment for voting will vary greatly across the board.
For students and staff who are healthy and willing to offer their services to their local election boards the opportunity to work as an election judge is eliminated by the continuance of University activity on Nov. 3. With older individuals at a higher risk of COVID-19 complications and an already looming fear of a significant lack of election judges — especially in Maryland — it is absolutely imperative that Hopkins affiliates who wish to be election judges are given the chance to do so.
To grant students and staff an ample opportunity to vote, to address inequality across students’ academic and personal situations, and to address the need and desire of individuals to become election judges, Daniels must declare Election Day a University holiday. If we want voter turnout to be as high as it possibly can, there is simply no justification for allowing University activities to continue on Nov. 3.
I am disappointed that this consideration was not given to Election Day before our semester began. I understand that the last minute reconfiguration of our University’s learning situation undoubtedly occupied the forefront of administrators’ minds. I also understand that abruptly canceling a day of instruction would inconvenience faculty members who instruct on Tuesdays, and to do so now would not be favorable to certain faculty members.
I do know, however, that the benefits outweigh the pitfalls in this situation. Remote instruction has proven itself to be flexible and dynamic. I have faith that our University ecosystem will not be perturbed beyond repair by the cessation of activities on Nov. 3. If Daniels makes this decision sooner rather than later, he will save all of his constituents from a frenzied scramble to adapt, and he will respect their time and energy in the way that they deserve. He will let them use that vital tool that he considers to be so critical in this moment.
Greta Maras is a sophomore from Naperville, Illinois studying International Studies and Political Science. She is a Hopkins Votes ambassador.