Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.
I have yet to have the opportunity to exercise my right to vote, but I vividly remember the stress of rushing to a closing polling place with my family. After a long day of working, rather than resting, everyone hurried to arrive in time to cast a vote.
I can imagine a similar situation after a day of classes and work. Instead of a trip to McKeldin Library in between classes, it’s a bus ride to the community center to vote in the College Park city election and waiting in line.
Thankfully, this year students will only have to sacrifice their Sunday, not a weekday afternoon. Students in the past have not been as fortunate. Election days were held on weekdays, and it has shown at the ballot box. Even with more than 40,000 students at this university, it’s been over 30 years since more than 3,000 people voted in a municipal election.
We have to do better, but we can’t do it alone. The university needs to actively help in promoting participation in the local community by sponsoring a campus-wide voter registration drive and establishing a campus holiday on the day of the College Park city election.
Absentee and early voting are two options for those who can’t find time to vote on election day. But these methods still require students to find time to vote and submit a ballot. Students should not have to make the decision between going to class, studying or voting. Ideally, they should have the time to accomplish all of these tasks. For those who are unable to squeeze in time, their voice will go unheard in their own community.
It is not an idealistic wish to give us this time — it is actually quite plausible.
For the upcoming national election, other universities are giving their students the day off to vote. While this choice comes at the loss of valuable class time, students are able to elect leaders who will remain in office and enact change that will last long beyond their time here on campus. This university has the opportunity to extend this initiative to municipal elections.
Even though national elections may operate at a larger scale, selecting the right candidates locally is just as important. The decisions made by these officials arguably have a more direct impact on students’ lives. Our local legislators make decisions regarding education, housing and construction, all problems near and dear to student’s hearts.
While College Park is only a temporary home for most students, with the lengthy academic calendar, many students are here for a majority of the year. Given students’ reputation for being unneighborly towards College Park residents, it is clear that some don’t feel like they are a part of the community. If students are provided with greater access to voting, it’s likely that we would better recognize our responsibility to our community.
Giving students ample time is only one important aspect of increasing voting turnout; the other is making sure we are informed. As such, this university must organize an on-campus voter registration drive. While this university provides a website to help students register to vote, placing volunteers and politicians in student’s faces is more likely to garner more interaction, especially since the website can be hard to navigate.
Furthermore, establishing a sponsored drive would show the commitment the university is choosing to make in promoting democracy among its students and on campus.
Making this commitment also means ensuring students are prepared to be informed citizens on election day. At this drive, students can receive booklets with the information to make educated decisions on election day and get registered to vote in College Park. Having in-person assistance with this process would remove many of the hurdles associated with voting. Historically, many minority groups face voter suppression through complicated registration processes. With the University of Maryland being a majority minority campus, a voter registration drive can potentially aid the previously disenfranchised.
To increase election turnout from student voters, we need to have time and information. The university must meet these needs to promote democratic spirit on campus and strengthen the political power of the youth.
All we need is one day and one event. These two simple requests have the potential to contribute to greater student engagement in the College Park community.
Lynelle Essilfie is a freshman public policy major. She can be reached at email@example.com.