A proposition was passed through the Lawrence University Community Council (LUCC) that aims to make Election Day a holiday for students on Wednesday, Oct. 5. Having passed, the proposition will be placed before President Laurie Carter for further action.
Sophomore Anders Hanhan, co-chair of the LUCC Sustainability Committee, proposed the resolution. Hanhan said that his goal was to find things that Lawrence can do to make the school more just and equitable that don’t cost any money. There is a stated goal for Lawrence as an institution to make 85% voter yields, according to Hanhan.
“Right now we’ve been hovering right around the 70s, which is pretty good,” said Hanhan. “But the positive marketing that could come from being the school, in a state that is notably hard to vote in, that has 85% of our students voting — that would be a really big achievement for Lawrence.”
The conflict between academics and voting was a factor in drafting the resolution, according to Hanhan. He argued that voting is a part of education and should be treated as such.
“The whole liberal arts idea is learning through experience, and being engaged in your community, and being a good civic actor,” said Hanhan.
Hanhan feels that Lawrence can live up to this by making it as easy as possible for students to vote. Another factor was the recent relocation of Lawrence’s closest voting location to Saint Joseph Parish Center, a 15-minute walk downtown, he said.
Sophomore class representative Isabel Dorn was one of the representatives who voted in favor of the proposal. Some representatives argued in favor of a compromise, with one proposition being to allow students to not attend class on election day without being penalized. The compromise would not resolve the issue of students having to choose between academics and voting, argued Dorn.
“You should not have to choose between voting and getting better grades on your finals,” said Dorn.
Hanhan similarly argued that the compromise would be a poor outcome due to it not resolving the conflict between learning and voting.
Another argument in favor of the proposition was how the current system primarily affects low-income or marginalized students. Those are the students who are juggling work schedules and academics and are therefore less likely to have time to vote, argued Dorn.
“To take a day off to go vote – that can cost you like $40,” said Dorn. “Forty dollars can be the difference between being able to afford your tuition or not. We should not have to pay $40 of our time to go vote.”
Junior class representative Rowan Tipping voted in favor of the proposal but stated that he heard and understood the other side. His vote yes was primarily to start the conversation, according to Tipping. He doubted that the administration would approve the proposition, especially given that it wasn’t a unanimous vote in favor.
Tipping saw the middle-ground option as a happy medium, commenting that he hoped it would be considered further if this current proposition wasn’t implemented. He also spoke to how groups such as the Center for Community Engagement (CCE) and Why Bother Wisconsin are already doing good work in helping to make voting accessible, such as by providing shuttles to help students vote.
“They’re trying to make it easy for people to vote, and I think that making it so there’s no class on election day would be a nice addition, but I’ve also come to realize that it’s not a realistic one,” said Tipping.
Tipping urged the student body to vocalize their opinion on the matter, as he felt that it is not currently very clear whether this change is something that the student body at large would support.
Assistant Professor of Biology and LUCC faculty representative Israel Del Toro, who is also the alderperson from District 4 to the Appleton Common Council, stated that he fully supported the idea of making voting as accessible as possible, whether or not that takes the form of an official school holiday.
“It’s important that we understand that Lawrence isn’t just the community here on campus, but also the broader city and the interactions with our local and state legislators as well. And having a voice there really matters,” said Del Toro.
Del Toro spoke on the importance of promoting active citizenship. Giving students the opportunity to vote is at least equally valuable to whatever it is students were going to learn in the class that day, he argued.
First-year class representative Cormac Billick abstained from the vote and said that he wasn’t in favor of making election day a holiday. Billick argued that losing even one day of a term is a significant loss for classes, given Lawrence’s trimester system. Missing a Tuesday or Thursday class is 1/20 of that class, he added. Increasing Lawrence’s already high voter turnout to that target number 85% could likely be accomplished without having to make the day a holiday, argued Billick.
Billick was in favor of a middle-ground option, seeing it as an easy way to incentivize higher voter turnout without shifting the cost onto other students — for example, international students who can’t vote in U.S. elections. He also spoke in favor of increasing awareness. It would also be good to have a better understanding of what other students thought about the issue, he said.