Packed into the Bowdoin van aptly named “the Votemobile,” on November 8, I drove alongside other students to cast my ballot. While there was a general aura of anxiety, it was quickly apparent that our worries were not caused solely by the important election at hand. Rather, students had been running to catch the van, often explaining that they were only available for a few minutes of the day to go vote. As I talked to more people, I realized that this was not an isolated feeling. Indeed, I could personally relate.
That day, I had picked up 75 newly printed Bowdoin Review magazines in Portland before I rushed to make my 1:15 p.m. class and then hurriedly biked over to the pick-up station to catch a ride to the polls. Even then, I knew I had a slew of important assignments, meetings and other commitments, and I felt lucky that I had the time at all to go vote. My day was so busy that I almost considered missing class to ensure I would have enough time to vote and complete everything else on my to-do list.
While I may have been a little busier than some other Bowdoin students on this day, in my personal experience, this is not abnormal. In fact, I would argue that being busy and being a student here go hand-in-hand. We are a college that prides itself on having rigorous classes and admitting students with strong work ethics. Additionally, we live on a campus that encourages students to fill their extra time with clubs, athletics and other extracurricular activities. Most students are already busy with their classes, and after considering everything else we do on campus, it becomes clear why so many students only had a limited window of time to vote.
Beyond just being a busy place, we are a politically active place. The school has sent out messages taking a stance on abortion, affirmative action, police brutality and many more important issues. We actively encourage students to vote in elections through programming that includes shuttles to and from polling stations. Clearly, the College wants us to go out and vote.
Yet, for many, having such a busy workload on weekdays is not typically conducive to finding this spare time to do so. For all these reasons, I think that the College should have future major elections as days off. Like any other short break, classes should not be held, practices suspended and clubs not expected to meet. I do understand that there are certain challenges posed by having an additional day off, but I feel strongly that there are ways to reorganize our calendar to properly account for such a change.
When I reached out to Bowdoin administrators, I received a few responses as to why this change has not yet been implemented. However, the point I mainly heard was that we have had historically high voting turnout, and thus, while some students may not be able to find time to vote, taking a whole day out of the calendar is, in their opinion, not worth the difficulty of rescheduling the fall semester.
However, I strongly disagree. Firstly, turnout is only one way to measure the potential impact of taking Election Day off. While people may still be voting, they are often trying to work it into an already intense amount of commitments. Our students are voting, but not because it is stress-free and convenient. Instead, we are voting because our students are aware of how important voting is. By taking Election Day off, the College would alleviate a great deal of this anxiety and re-emphasize our commitment to voting. Additionally, while most people make it out to vote, there is little doubt in my mind that giving people more free time to visit the polling booth would only add to our already significant turnout.
As national attention turns to the runoff election in Georgia, prioritizing our ability to vote is at the front of my mind. Incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock (D) is fighting against the election-denying Herschel Walker (R) in a highly contested runoff race that will determine control in the Senate. The race represents a larger picture of America in which over one third of the country believes the 2020 election was illegitimate and that our very system of voting is filled with alleged fraud. While obviously untrue, this terrifying trend only further stresses the importance of voting.
At some fundamental level, college should be like a bridge from the sheltered environment of home to the unstructured and independent nature of being an adult. While living alone and being responsible for staying on top of classes are two examples of this we already see, exercising our civic responsibility is another key pillar students should learn. Voting should not be stressful nor have to be weighed against multiple other commitments. By giving Election Day off, Bowdoin would significantly empower students to get out and vote.
Noah Saperstein is a member of the Class of 2025.