Should Shepherd University Close on Election Days?

Past Turnout At the Polls:

The recent presidential midterm election raises many questions about who will turn out at the polls. The United States Census Bureau collected data, after the 2020 presidential elections, about the voter turnout. Based on their data they concluded that “Overall, voter turnout increased as age increased.”

Voter turnout was the lowest amongst those ages 18 to 24 at 51.4%. This age group makes up a large portion of college and University students and voter turnout amongst this population has traditionally been low.

 Many college students begin college at 18 or 19-years-old meaning they have just become eligible to vote. At this point in their life, they have not been able to make a habit of voting. Throwing in the difficulty of possibly being out of state, without transportation, and the regular stresses of school, it can be challenging for them to exercise their new right to vote.

Abbi Lewis, an out-of-state sophomore at Shepherd University, said, “It was challenging for me to vote this year, not only do I have a hectic class schedule, but I also have a part time job so some of my days don’t finish until 6 or 7 p.m.”  She goes on to say that she must worry about homework and making dinner after practice, leaving very little time to drive home to vote in her state.

Importance of College Students’ Voices:

Despite the low voter turnout amongst this age group many people maintain the opinion that their opinion and voices in the polls are extremely important. A Shepherd University professor and advisor, who wishes to remain anonymous, said that “College/University students are our future.”

She goes on to explain why she feel their voices in these elections are of the up most importance saying, “University students are the next leaders, innovators, and educators, so they need to exercise the right to vote to ensure what policies, laws, and amendments they wish to execute or deny get noticed or rejected.”

Not only are University the future “leaders” of this country, but they are at a unique time of their lives where they are surrounded by people of different cultures and backgrounds. This can develop thoughtful citizens capable of critically thinking about policies and laws which will affect not only themselves, but the rest of the country.

Dr. Sarah Reynolds, a Shepherd University professor in the biology department said, “College is a time to explore and learn about the world and our place within it. Morals and ethics are challenged by new experiences and individual opinions can begin to emerge. The participation in elections and voting is core to learning about how individual voices matter and to foster active participants in society.”

Accessibility to the Polls

 Most college students (18-24 years old) have not had many opportunities to vote before they enter college, so they may not be fully comfortable or knowledgeable with specifics of the voting process. If they have moved out of their home precinct it can make this process even more difficult.

Voting must take place in a resident’s home precinct, leaving college students with three options: drive to their home precinct, request a mail in ballot, or request an absentee ballot. Some college students do not have a car to drive home and even those that do would have to consider the price of gas.

 While a mail in ballot is a valid option, some people may have a difficult time getting one depending on how long it would take them to come in. A similar problem arises with the absentee ballot, they need to be approved and they could take a while to come.  Some citizens have taken to twitter to complain about this issue.

Tweets pulled from Twitter regarding people’s frustration with obtaining and receiving absentee ballots.

Taking in all these obstacles it can be difficult for already stressed college students to feel empowered to vote. Adding in ongoing classes makes it even more difficult. College students can have hectic schedules that can leave little time to make a trip home to vote.

Karli Hepner is a student athlete at Shepherd University who said she, “was eager to participate [in voting] as soon as [she] turned 18”. She lives out of state in Winchester Virgina, about an hour and half from Shepherdstown and said, “The reason I did not vote at this past election was because I had class and was not able to go home to my set voting location”. Karli does acknowledge that there were other options but says, “there is voting by mail, and I just discovered I could’ve voted at the local elementary school here, but I would have to sign up/register to participate both of those ways.”

Shepherd University students are not the only ones who feel it can be tough for college students to vote, some professors share the same opinion. The professor, who wishes to remain anonyms, said “I do feel if students are distanced from their hometowns, the voting process is quite challenging and getting a mail-in ballet just adds an additional task onto their already heightened to-do list; therefore, several probably overlook the process.”

This professor has been teaching at Shepherd for several years and works with their students every day, so they have a unique perspective on the students’ struggles.

Another Shepherd professor not only acknowledges the struggle for students to vote with the university being open, but also raises a concern on behalf of the faculty. She said, “As a parent, this is challenging. Schools are closed, since many operate as polling stations, and so I must find childcare in order to be at work.”

Some college faculty members have children whose schools are closed for election day meaning they will have to find childcare on a day they normally would not need it. Childcare can be hard to find and expensive, creating a challenge for these particular faculty members.

A Possible Solution

Taking into consideration all these factors some students and faculty members feel that a solution could be closing the schools on election days, and/or making a school building a voting location. Abbi Lewis said, “I think if the school was closed or a voting site then I would have been able to participate as it would’ve been much more accessible to me.”

Having a voting location that is within walking distance for the students creates an easy opportunity for students to exercise their rights and make their voices heard.

Shepherd University student Erica Keplinger said she was able to vote because she is fortunate enough to be “20 minutes” away from home. However, she even said, “I think school should be closed on Election Day for students to travel home to vote or make some way students can vote not in their home state.” Even though she was able to vote and only lives “20 minutes” away she still had difficulties finding time to travel home. She also said she had friends that lived further away that were not able to vote.

Dr. Reynolds said, “I think that being closed for election days would offer support and encourage students to participate in voting.” Colleges are spaces for growth and knowledge. They are spaces for discussions and differing opinions. And they should be spaces that support their students right to vote and let their voices be heard.

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