With the 2020 elections less than a month away, politics remains at the forefront of much of the Penn community's priorities. Although it is likely that many students and University employees will vote using absentee or mail-in ballots, a significant number may also vote in person.
While the commitment of Penn community members to civic engagement is certainly admirable, they are currently receiving no help from the University. Last month, Penn refused to guarantee an excused absence for students seeking to work the polls on Election Day, and it is likely that many others will be forced to choose between voting in person or attending class. Moreover, many Penn employees will likely be unable to take the day off to vote. With all this in mind, Penn must provide students, faculty, and other members of the University community with a day off on November 3rd by suspending operations.
By suspending University operations, Penn would encourage voter turnout and boost civic engagement. Providing students, faculty members, non-essential employees, and other affiliates with a day off would give them adequate time to vote in-person without missing out on instruction or other opportunities at the University. Moreover, it would also allow those who can serve as poll workers to do so more easily. For a University that has designated this academic year as the Year of Civic Engagement, there is no better way to support civic participation than by suspending operations on Election Day.
Increased civic participation by those in the Penn community, students or otherwise, could have real-world consequences. Elections in Pennsylvania are often won and lost at the margins; in 2016, Donald Trump won the state and its 20 electoral votes by about 45,000 votes. This year, it is certainly possible for that margin to be even smaller on either end. Giving hundreds, if not thousands, of Pennsylvania residents the opportunity to exercise their voice would have a huge impact far beyond Philadelphia.
Providing a day off would not only create practical benefits - it would also improve the mental health of the campus community. In an era of increased polarization and division, many people see politics as personal. Some members of the Penn community may also be personally affected by hostile government policies if their preferred candidate does not win. Four years ago, Penn saw an emotional response to the 2016 election, and it will likely see one again this year. With that in mind, Penn should allow students one day to not only exercise their civic duty, but also reflect on the election as a whole.
Some may argue that the University is unable to suspend University operations due to state restrictions on the amount of days school must be in session. While this may normally be true, the extra days available to due to the cancellation of fall break should allow Penn sufficient flexibility to suspend University operations. Additionally, Penn suspends operations on short notice due to inclement weather on a near-yearly basis, so it is not too late to make a change this year. If Penn was able to reverse its plans for the Fall semester on short notice just a few months ago, it can surely make the smaller change of suspending University operations on Election Day.
For many on campus, politics is not just a hobby or a spectator sport, but a field that actively shapes their lives in more ways than one. Given the substantial amount of emotional investment that many have in the 2020 elections, as well as the pressing need for further civic engagement, Penn's path forward is clear. The University should support its community by suspending operations on Nov. 3rd.
Editorials represent the majority view of members of The Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc. Editorial Board, which meets regularly to discuss issues relevant to Penn's campus. Participants in these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on related topics.