Letter to the Editor: Michael Crow should make election day a University holiday

ASU alumnus Alexei Matyushov believes that Crow should work to promote voting

I am a proud Sun Devil and ASU and Barrett Honors College alumnus. I am writing to you today to urge you to consider a proposal -- a proposal that, if enacted, I believe will strengthen the university's commitment to be an institution that not only pursues scholarship but one that produces visible, positive impact on its community. 

I propose that the national election day be made an official university holiday, so that students, faculty and staff at all levels can be freed from their obligations and encouraged to vote and participate in our democratic process.

Recently, I learned of a Vote.org initiative urging businesses to make election day a holiday for their employees. 

As the founder of Vote.org stated, "No one should have to choose between work, or money, and voting. It's an unfair burden."

I agree and would like to extrapolate: no one should have to choose between the academic pursuits of our professional future and exercising the vote to determine our collective national future. 

As students embark on their college education and grow into adulthood, it is also the time when they first become eligible to vote. 

Yet, as is well known, voters aged 18 to 29 have by far the lowest voter participation rate of approximately 45 percent in recent presidential elections and only 20 percent or lower in "off-year" elections. 

It is unfortunate that colleges and universities do not actively seek to address this deficiency, even though they have such a profound opportunity to do so — since in many aspects, the time spent at institutions of higher learning is often one of the most formative periods in peoples' lives. 

This reality is made more stark, and the need for progress more urgent, in light of the strains afflicting our democracy in the present time. That our democratic system is suffering is palpable in the insidious suffusion of misinformation — the rise of what seems like an informal industry spawning conspiracy theories and "alternative facts". 

It is palpable in the opportunistic weaponization of that misinformation by Russian operatives who seek to further stoke our divisions and even influence our elections. And it has been recognized by analysts at The Economist, which reduced the US ranking from a "full democracy" to a "flawed democracy" in its Democracy Index in 2016. 

In the future, these threats will become only more sophisticated: computing power will advance, and fake information, images and even fake videos will become ever more realistic and cheaper to produce, while ever more advanced bots or other AI tools will enable widespread proliferation. 

However, who but the academic community is better prepared to distinguish the fake from the factual, and to bring a cohort of informed voters to the polls? After all, we are a community of students: pursuing excellence in learning and naturally well-versed in emerging media and communication technology. 

We are a community of scholars and professors: leaders of research at the forefront of our collective human knowledge, technology, and expertise. We are well prepared to be voices of reason among the noise. 

Despite low turnout among young voters, colleges and universities have historically been loci of student-led activism and protests. It is only natural that institutions of higher learning build upon this desire for democratic engagement by doing their part in promoting the most fundamental civic responsibility of all: voting. 

Establishment of a university holiday on election day would not only ease voting for the entire body of students, faculty, and staff, it would also create awareness and encourage those who are less engaged. We can start to turn around the disappointingly low turnout rate of Americans more generally, and young people in particular, but it will require a change of culture. 

This can be achieved — if colleges and universities make a conscious effort to instill a voting culture among the millions of young people filling the venerated halls of academia.

The ASU charter is, in part, to "[assume] fundamental responsibility for the economic, social, cultural and overall health of the communities it serves." President Crow, I urge you to take action to build a community of democratically engaged and informed citizens. 

I urge you (President Crow) to establish a university-wide holiday on election day to empower and encourage the Sun Devil community to vote. 

Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this letter to the editor are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors. This letter to the editor was submitted by ASU alumnus Alexei Matyushov, who graduated with a BS in Physics and a BA in Political Science.

Reach the author at matyushov.a@husky.neu.edu.

Want to join the conversation? Send an email to opiniondesk.statepress@gmail.com. Keep letters under 500 words and be sure to include your university affiliation. Anonymity will not be granted.

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