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BU students petition for optional classes on Election Day 2020

Boston University students are urging the administration to make attendance optional on election day through an online petition. LAURYN ALLEN/ DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

Boston University students are asking that the University make class attendance optional on Election Day this year.

College of Arts and Sciences freshman Arlo Hatcher launched a petition on behalf of CAS Student Government, asking the University to give students the option to miss class on Election Day to promote student voting. 

“Young people just don’t get out to vote,” Hatcher said. “People are too busy, and that makes sense because college students are really busy. They have classes. They have extracurriculars. They have all sorts of stuff going on.”

BU Student Government also voted to support a class-optional Election Day 2020 in its virtual meeting Monday, and is recommending BU marks the date a University holiday starting in 2022.

In the 2016 presidential election, 48.3 percent of college students voted, according to an analysis by Tufts University.

CAS StuGov decided not to ask for classes to be canceled on Election Day 2020 because the notice would be too short.

“For this year, we think it’s unfair to professors who already have syllabi made,” Hatcher said. “This petition is specifically making attendance optional, but ideally that would be a full academic holiday. That’s what we’re pushing for for 2022.”

Hatcher said mail-in ballots do not guarantee a vote.

“For some people, they might have forgotten. They might not be able to fill it out. It might be too late. Some people get their ballots canceled,” Hatcher said. “Even with the mail-in ballot option, we should still be removing the structural barriers to voting that college students … face.”

The petition, created Oct. 8, has more than 550 signatures as of Wednesday night.

In a letter to BU faculty members, students and professors of the BU Votes initiative wrote that aside from optional attendance this Nov. 3, they also want to see every federal election day — occurring every even-numbered year — be a University holiday.  

The letter suggested professors provide lecture recordings for asynchronous viewing, allow excused absences for voting purposes and avoid scheduling tests on Election Day. 

“BU Votes believes that a culture of civic engagement is a vital part of a liberal undergraduate education,” the group wrote. “Flexibility from their professors will encourage students to take the time to vote.” 

BU StuGov Sen. Hessann Farooqi, a member of the CAS StuGov committee behind the petition, said he hopes BU will eventually make all federal election days University holidays, and in doing so, will inspire other universities to do the same. 

“That’s not going to solve all of the problems that we have around voter suppression in this country, but it will make it easier to vote on our campus,” said Farooqi, who is also a member of BU Votes. “Whatever we can do at the campus level, we absolutely have to do.”

He voted in favor of supporting the petition at Monday’s BU StuGov meeting.

Lia Weil, a junior in CAS, said she supports the petition. As a student and a volunteer poll worker, she said she believes optional classes on Election Day would encourage students not only to vote, but also to engage in volunteering opportunities to support the election. 

“Our current administration has promoted not voting by mail-in ballot,” Weil said. “So even though there is a large increase, I still think that a lot of people still may want to go vote in person.” 

Carrie Welter, a junior in CAS, said she recognizes the University may be hesitant to make classes optional on Election Day considering many BU students are not registered to vote in Massachusetts, and therefore send mail-in ballots anyway as absentee voters. She said professors, however, could benefit.

“A good idea with making classes optional,” Welter said, “is professors can also choose to cancel so that they can go vote.” 

Welter said she believes BU should do whatever it can to promote student voter engagement, especially given the nature of the upcoming election. 

“The stakes are really high,” Welter said. “I do feel like any motion to get as many students to vote as possible is important.” 

The petition follows the decision of several other schools, such as Brown University and Columbia University, to cancel classes Nov. 3 to increase college student voter engagement. BU School of Law’s Juris Doctor degree program also recognizes Election Day as an academic holiday.

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