Numerous colleges and universities across the country closed on Election Day this past Tuesday. Elizabethtown College was not one of them. Instead, as voters rushed to the polls, the students of Etown followed the schedule of a regular school day.
Should the College have taken the day off to help its students fulfill their civic duty? In a random poll of students around campus, the almost unanimous answer to this question was, “Yes.” However, the answer is not quite that simple.
During this past election, student voters fell into three main groups. The first group obtained absentee ballots to vote ahead of time.
As a member of this group (and a Pennsylvania resident), I found this process to be simple. I mailed in my application, got my ballot and sent my votes on their way with little fuss. From my perspective, everything worked out fine. I saw no problem with going to school on Tuesday.
However, the absentee ballot experience did not come as easily for all students. Sophomore Jenna Hansell, a Delaware resident, explained that the process her state followed required her to get an affidavit notarized before she received her ballot.
“The extra step made it more difficult,” Hansell said. She added that another of her friends didn’t know of the additional steps and consequently missed the deadline to vote completely.
“Having school off would help so much,” Hansell said. “People could go home to vote. It would make things a lot easier.”
The second group were students registered to vote using their campus address. College shuttles ran at half-hour intervals to the polling station at Elizabethown Borough from 1 p.m. until 7 p.m.
The shuttle was sponsored by the Department of Politics, Philosophy and Legal Studies. The wide range of time made it convenient for most students to catch a ride between classes or club meetings.
The third group of students voted at their home polling places. Sophomore Kelly Barnett lives about 45 minutes away, and she chose to drive home for the afternoon to vote. To Barnett, closing the College for the day does not seem like a necessity.
“I don’t think there’s a need for the campus to be closed,” Barnett said. “I don’t live too far away, and I was able to go home between classes and club meetings.”
What is the right answer? Under the law, institutions of higher education do not have to close on state holidays. Short from cancelling classes, the College has helped encourage student voters in multiple ways.
Campus News also sent out reminders about registration deadlines. The shuttle removed the transportation barrier for some students voting in Etown.
For many students, myself included, this is the first presidential election we’ve gotten the opportunity to vote in. Students shouldn’t have had to stay home from the polls because their schedules didn’t allow time to vote.
Cancelling school may have helped some students cast their vote, but would have also taken away a day of instruction as projects and tests began piling up.
Whether or not this policy is ever changed, the responsibility falls on us, the students, to be informed about voting procedures. If this election has taught us anything, it’s to expect the unexpected. Before the next election, make sure to plan ahead, explore the options and know the deadlines so you’re not caught by surprise.