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College rejects student petition calling for a holiday on election day

As voters trickle into polling places across the country, the Colby community will be experiencing a Tuesday like any other–at least as far as the official College schedule goes. Colby administrators this week quietly rejected a letter signed by ten students and four faculty members to suspend all academic and extracurricular activities for election day.

In a letter addressed to President Greene and Dean of the College Karlene Burell-Mcrae, the words of the appeal were unequivocal: “It is crucial that we protect our democracy by making the voting process as accessible as possible for our entire community.”

Sophomore SGA co-President Josh Brause, who penned the letter and started an accompanying 300 signature petition on, saw the day off as a way to increase voter turnout and give the school a little breathing room.

“Yeah, people really are gonna be in a difficult place mentally to varying degrees throughout campus,” Brause told The Colby Echo from his common room in Dana.

Colby is hardly alone in this effort. Brown University, Colorado College, and American University—among others—have all pulled the plug on the Nov. 3 class day after successful lobbying from students and faculty.

Many who signed Colby’s letter, representing the Student Government Administration and ColbyVotes, a non- partisan student group dedicated to increasing turnout and registration, agree on why it fell short at the College: too little, too late.

“The request was sent out at the last minute and it is an enormous undertaking to close an institution such as this at short notice,” said Professor of History and ColbyVotes Advisor Sarah Duff.

“Practical considerations were, clearly, the reason for the College’s decision” Duff added.

But this may have been a plea heard before by many Colby administrators.

I know that Colby Votes, one of their big things they wanted to be able to get done from a very early point in the semester, was they wanted to get us the day off on election day,” said one source familiar with the situation. President of ColbyVotes, Lutie Brown `22, couldn’t be reached for comment.

Though Colby’s pulse won’t slow on Tuesday, last-minute changes to the election day schedule have been quickly implemented at other institutions. At Swarthmore, President Valerie Smith called a schoolwide election holiday on Oct. 26, just two days before Brause published the letter to school leadership on the Colby Civil Discourse online forum.

Even closer to the wire, Illinois Governor Jay Prtizker designated Nov. 3 a state holiday just hours before voters headed to the polls, effectively closing public schools (those not already shut for voting) and some—but not all—businesses.

Although the College flatly rejected an election holiday, many original sponsors of Brause’s letters are pleased with Colby’s civic engagement efforts in general.

“From my vantage point, Colby leadership has been highly supportive of civic engagement efforts across the board,” Kimberly Flowers, Executive Director of the Goldfarb Center for public affairs, wrote.

Despite the uptick in Colby-supported electoral awareness efforts on campus ,some numbers still put Colby near the bottom of voter participation among peer schools. According to a NESCAC ranking of member schools by pledges to vote in 2020, (posted to Instagram on Oct. 29) Colby sat in 9th place out of 11.

 While this could be a result of scant participation on the platform Motivote-responsible for recording pledge data-the College’s voting record in the most recent election has been similarly low. ColbyVotes reported a 37.6% Colby student turnout in the 2018 midterms-roughly 36% lower than the number of students registered.

To Brause and others, this made the demand for no school Tuesday all the more pressing. According to a Tufts study highlighted in the circulated letter to Colby leaders, the second largest excuse for college students not voting is a scheduling conflict

With the rejiggering of the class day to abide by COVID-19 protective measures, some fifteen classes have taken a once weekly night slot from 7-9 p.m.-falling in the final hour before polls close in Maine. Earlier in the day, about one half of the Colby community will take a regularly scheduled test for COVID, throwing another potential snag in voting.

Brushing off the “nay” on an election holiday, student and faculty voting leaders are onto another flashpoint–the post-election fallout. Brause, along with student body President Ashlee Guevara, recently formed an ad hoc committee to explore how best to address the the results of the election-whatever they may be-with the student body, faculty and staff. Their decisions are expected in the week ahead.

Despite the unsuccessful push for an election holiday and the general tumult ahead,  Brause is proud of this year’s civic engagement on campus.

“I think something this election did was [that] it brought awareness to a lot of people’s minds and … awakened people to civic participation.”

~ Donovan Lynch `22

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