Stanford: Make Election Day a day of civic service

Oct. 1, 2020, 9:36 p.m.

Stanford should make Election Day a Day of Civic Service. Such a designation would see the University remove academic and professional obligations on federal election days to give the Stanford community the agency to vote, give back and participate in our democracy. A number of colleges and graduate programs (including Brown, Columbia and Stanford Law School) already cancel classes on Election Day to allow students to engage with the electoral process, and we believe that it is essential for Stanford to enact this policy as well. 

On a Day of Civic Service, Stanford affiliates would have the opportunity to participate in a robust program of civic engagement and election-related activities — especially those that are inclusive of non-U.S. citizens:

  • Serving as poll workers or ballot counters
  • Participating in non-partisan Get Out The Vote efforts
  • Attending civic engagement programming put on by SIG, the ASSU and other Stanford groups 
  • Contributing to organizations like the Stanford Internet Observatory, the Healthy Elections Project, ProPublica or the Associated Press’ Data Journalism team 
  • Voting

The Stanford University Founding Grant makes clear that encouraging civic participation is central to the core mission of our school: “[Stanford’s] purpose to promote the public welfare by exercising an influence on behalf of humanity and civilization, teaching… and inculcating love and reverence for the great principles of government.” As an institution, civic engagement should be prioritized, not neglected. It would be easy to turn inward, to abdicate our responsibilities to a wider society, to relegate participation to personal time. But that’s not who we are as individuals, and it’s not who we are as a community. 

Most Stanford students want to be civically engaged. They want to shape the course of the country and take the reins of a new generation of leadership, and we should encourage them in their efforts. Stanford must send the message that participating isn’t an afterthought, that academic responsibilities go hand in hand with thoughtful citizenship and that stewarding our shared civic culture is expected of us all. Though students are busy, stressed and overwhelmed, they are also motivated. Motivated to create change, motivated to speak up for the things they believe in, motivated to engage in a democracy that needs them. We can harness that motivation on Election Day.

And we cannot forget that Stanford’s faculty and staff are also enormously invested in civic engagement and face their own unique obstacles to participation. They too want to serve as election officials, join in get-out-the-vote efforts and encourage their family and friends to vote. Yet hourly staff would have to sacrifice a portion of their paychecks to take part in Election Day. Moreover, the Bay Area’s high cost-of-living forces many to live far away from campus, further complicating efforts to participate. We must support them, too.

Recent challenges have reinvigorated our belief in the need for all of us to fully commit to the most important duty we share with our friends and neighbors  — that of citizenship. A Day of Civic Service would enable every member of the Stanford community to take on the responsibilities of our republic. We know that it’s asking a lot to reschedule a day of teaching and give staff the day off. But class and work will still be there after the election; the chance to shape the direction of our country will have passed. On Election Day, each of us is called to put down our normal responsibilities in favor of a more important one: sharing in the joint work of democracy. With institutional support, we all can answer that call.

This is a unique moment in history, and one that’s underscored the importance of fulfilling our responsibilities to each other. America is caught in the throes of epidemiological, economic and political crises, and the future of the nation has rarely seemed more uncertain. It is almost a cliché to say that this is the election of the century, but as The Economist observes, “The stakes really do appear higher than usual this time round.” Now more than ever, the Stanford community is being called to serve outside of the classroom. On Election Day, we should shed the ordinary roles of faculty, student and staff in favor of our shared role of citizen, our collective hope for the future. And no matter what happens this November, we’ll be a better university for it.

You can find our formal proposal here .

Contact Sean Casey at spcasey ‘at’ and Jonathan Lipman at jonathan.lipman ‘at’

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