Penciled In: Pace University Makes Election Day A Holiday For Student Voters
Election Day is an opportunity for college students to use their voices to become community activists and leaders that mobilize around issues related to social justice and equity. However, on one of the biggest days for democratic participation, students also report to their other responsibilities: demanding class schedules, jobs, numerous extracurricular activities, and personal and family lives. With mandatory class attendance and participation that could affect their academic success, students are left with little to no time to fully participate in our democracy without penalty.
Andrew Goodman Ambassadors at Pace University recognized the need to eliminate barriers to the ballot box through systemic institutionalization of voter-friendly practices on their campus, like making election day a campus-wide holiday. After witnessing the historic turnout of young people and college students during the 2020 election cycle, Andrew Goodman Campus Team at Pace began researching the potential impact of establishing election day as a holiday. The Ambassadors, alongside their Campus Champion, immediately began organizing a plan of advocacy to see their ideas come to fruition.
The Ambassadors built a coalition with other key stakeholders on their campus, like the Student Government Association (SGA), in order to begin the process of building a resolution for action. In Spring 2021, Pace University Andrew Goodman Ambassadors worked hard to move their Election Day resolution through the SGA and onto their Faculty Councils, which sets the calendar in advance of the academic year. An Andrew Goodman Ambassador met with the President of the SGA and spearheaded efforts to get the Legislating Body votes needed to pass their resolution on to the Faculty Council. Ultimately, the council voted in their favor! Beginning Fall 2023, Election Day will officially be an “asynchronous instruction day,” where classes do not meet in real time, allowing students the flexibility needed to get to the polls and exercise one of the most powerful tools citizens have in democracy.
Marvin Krislov, President of Pace University and member of The Andrew Goodman Foundation’s Advisory Board, said, “Pace University students are active participants in the world around them, and the vote is one of the most powerful tools we as citizens have to make our voices heard. I’m pleased we’re making it easier for our students to vote, and I’m grateful to and impressed by the student leaders who, working together with mentors from The Andrew Goodman Foundation, developed a plan for action and convinced our Faculty Council to make this positive change.”
The Ambassadors’ efforts ensured increased access to the ballot on Election Day for their 12,835 peers. Not only will students be able to vote without worry of academic penalty, but they will also be able to engage in many other meaningful democratic activities. Thanks to our Ambassadors’ advocacy, students will have the opportunity to become and recruit peers as poll workers, organize GOTV drives, and encourage fellow students to serve their campus’ surrounding community. Our Ambassadors’ persistence and strong commitment to voting rights advocacy will help protect their peers’ right to vote for years to come.
While the Pace Andrew Goodman Campus Team waits to see their victory actualized on Election Day in 2023, they continue to change the civic culture on their campus. Andrew Goodman Ambassadors understand that college campuses have a unique sense of community and ability to empower first-time voters as first-year students. By sustainably improving voting infrastructure, they are able to increase student civic engagement and break down voting barriers. Today, Ambassadors at Pace invest their time into civic education and empowerment of first-year students by presenting in classrooms and training Resident Assistants with the knowledge they need to empower their peers. They lead engaging events and programming related to voter registration, GOTV efforts, and civic education.
The movement of colleges and universities to adopt election day as a holiday emphasizes that it is not simply a day off, but rather an additional learning experience for students. By actively engaging in our democracy and civic processes, students learn the importance of making their voices heard and are encouraged to become civic leaders. Campuses such as Pace are learning that when students are provided with robust institutional support and a plethora of opportunities to engage in civic processes, they are more likely to participate in important elections, forums for public input, and other means of being an active citizen in their communities. The story of Pace highlights that empowering students to use their voices during college and throughout the rest of their lives is a worthy investment for institutions of higher education.
About the Author
Kaylee Valencia is the Program Manager: Operations Strategist at The Andrew Goodman Foundation. Kaylee is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a bachelor’s degree in Political Science.