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Students Petition Bacow for University Holiday on Election Day

A campus polling site in 2018.
A campus polling site in 2018. By Quinn G. Perini
By Camille G. Caldera and Michelle G. Kurilla, Crimson Staff Writers

More than 600 signatories have endorsed a petition that calls on University President Lawrence S. Bacow to designate Election Day — Nov. 3 — as a University holiday.

Jack M. Swanson ’22, who organized the petition, said he hopes the change would give a “renewed sense of importance to Election Day” and provide students, faculty, and staff with ample time to vote and engage in other civic activities.

“Voting is not the only way you engage civically,” Swanson said. “We need to open up the space for people to be able to work at the polls.”

He said he was in part motivated to launch the effort because of a recent “pro-voting” email Bacow sent and the belief that action carries more weight than words.

Last week, Bacow encouraged members of the Harvard community to register to vote and “affirm and uphold the ideals of democracy.”

“The Harvard we have come to know and love, to challenge and change, is a uniquely American institution,” Bacow wrote. “Our strength depends, in many ways, on the strength of the union, and we must do our part to ensure that every person’s voice is heard. If you are eligible, please register and vote.”

Swanson acknowledged that the administration may cite logistical or financial concerns with implementing an official University holiday in less than three weeks' time. Faculty and staff receive paid time off on University holidays.

But he said he is “optimistic,” in part because there is “precedent” for such a change.

Bacow announced on June 16 that the University would close on June 19 in observance of Juneteenth, a commemoration of the Emancipation Proclamation.

“There's no reason we can't get this done in the time frame that we've been given right now,” Swanson said.

Alexandra P. Grayson ’22 said she signed the petition because she will have classes on Election Day that prevent her from volunteering to work the polls.

“The pandemic highlighted that a lot of poll workers are older people, and that’s been fine in the past, but is now not the best situation,” she said, citing health concerns related to COVID-19. “My county needs poll workers, but at the time when they need them, I’m stuck in class.”

Grayson also referenced the messages from Bacow and others at the University encouraging voting as a reason to instate the holiday.

“You talked about it, why don’t you make it a University holiday?” she asked.

Swanson pointed to the other 12 holidays on Harvard's calendar — New Year’s Day, Martin Luther King Day, Presidents Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Columbus Day or Indigenous Peoples’ Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving and the following day, a half-day on Christmas Eve, and Christmas.

“Why do we get Black Friday off, but not Election Day?” Swanson said.

The petition also cites peer institutions — including Brown University, American University, and the University of Utah — that have designated Election Day as a holiday or cancelled classes.

Swanson said he believes Harvard has “a lot of push in the higher education scene” and could motivate other universities to cancel classes on Election Day or further longstanding efforts to deem it a federal holiday.

Jason A. Newton, a spokesperson for the University, declined to comment on the petition.

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