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Proposal to Suspend Classes on Election Day Turned Down by Calendar Committee

By Leigh Roberts | February 27, 2023

Stock image of a voter casting their ballot

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

For more than two years, Generation Vote (Gen Vote) at the University at Albany has been campaigning for the designation of Election Day as an academic holiday until last semester, when Gen Vote’s proposal was turned down by UAlbany’s Academic Calendar Committee. This designation, had it gone into place, would suspend classes on Election Day, creating an opportunity for students and faculty to head to the polls instead of the classroom.

Generation Vote is a national organization that empowers youth voters and promotes democracy. At UAlbany, Gen Vote frequently organizes voter registration campaigns on campus and works to inform the student body about the electoral process. The organization is dedicated to “tearing down the barriers that prevent young people from participating in our democracy,” and one of these barriers, according to Gen Vote members Isabella Blauvelt-Mercado and Brianna Townsend, is having classes on Election Day.

“If people are in class, they don’t have the time to go vote,” said Townsend in an interview with the ASP.

“So we figured, hey, if you have Election Day off, you can head to the polls and not worry about classes, or any other possible obstacles or barriers,” added Blauvelt-Mercado.

A petition with over 500 signatures published by Gen Vote’s previous president Luke Morello calls for the designation of Election Day as an academic holiday at UAlbany. The petition claims that youth voter turnout in New York is behind the national average, citing data from the 2018 midterm elections that places the youth voter turnout in New York of voters ages 18-29 at 16.4% compared to the national average of 28% (down from earlier estimates of 31%).

“This lack of youth voter turnout leads to young voices being under-represented in national, state, and local politics,” reads the petition. “The University at Albany has an obligation to support this cause, and can do so by designating Election Day as a University Holiday at UAlbany.”

Election Day is a state holiday in New York, with the Paid Voting Leave Law guaranteeing working voters two hours of paid leave on Election Day. However, no provision currently exists that allows college students to take time off from class to vote.

“The University at Albany has the opportunity to lead the charge in promoting youth voting rights in New York State by designating Election Day a University holiday and therefore eliminating a barrier that college students face with voting,” concludes Gen Vote’s petition.

According to data from Day on Democracy, an organization that advocates for student participation in elections, in the U.S. only 2.9% of universities and colleges suspend classes on Election Day.

UAlbany spokesperson Jordan Carleo-Evangelist says that the school has taken measures to keep students involved with the election process, and student voter engagement thrives on campus.

“Our campus voter education and registration efforts combined with recent expansions of absentee and early voting in New York State mean UAlbany students have many opportunities to engage in the democratic process without our needing to suspend classes on Election Day,” said Carleo-Evangelist in an email to the ASP. In August, the Washington Monthly ranked UAlbany as one of the best colleges in the U.S. for student voting.

Gen Vote’s efforts to have classes suspended on Election Day began with the organization’s previous president, Luke Morello. In 2020, UAlbany’s Vice President of Student Affairs, Dr. Michael Christakis, was in touch with student organizations regarding how they were faring amidst the pandemic. Morello took this as an opportunity to meet with Christakis regarding Gen Vote’s proposal. He also began a correspondence with UAlbany Registrar Karen Chico Hurst, who heads the Academic Calendar Committee.

Ultimately, Gen Vote’s proposal was turned down by the Calendar Committee. The announcement reached Gen Vote on Nov. 8 (Election Day), 2022.

Chico Hurst attributes this decision to time constraints resulting from UAlbany’s 15-week semesters.

“There are a limited number of weeks in the Fall semester, and the calendar committee must ensure that every course offered meets the minimum number of contact hours necessary to satisfy SUNY, state, federal, and accreditation regulations and guidelines that make those courses (and the students in them) eligible for academic credit and other things like financial aid,” said Chico Hurst in an email to the ASP.


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