Attendance on Election Day

Room 114 of Babbitt Academic Annex sits empty, Oct. 29.

With Election Day right around the corner, it is imperative for students to make a plan to vote, if they choose to do so, before or on Nov. 3. 

In anticipation, the Associated Students of Northern Arizona University (ASNAU) released resolution ASNAU-SR-001 on Oct. 22, asking faculty not to take attendance on Election Day to provide students with an opportunity to vote. 

Sophomore Jacob Carter, a double major in sociology and strategic communication, and ASNAU’s senator of the College of Engineering, Informatics and Applied Sciences, co-sponsored the resolution with sophomore Cooper Jensen, a communication major and ASNAU’s senator for the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences. Carter said the resolution was his brainchild and was something he wanted ASNAU to consider. 

“There’s a lot of other students who don’t want to wake up that early or who have a flipped schedule, or they work early in the morning and they have other classes in the evening,” Carter said. “I think it just, to me, was super, super important that we have something in place to empower students at NAU to cast their vote.”

Professor of communication studies Richard Rogers said in his 25-year career at NAU, he cannot recall a resolution similar to the one Carter and Jensen introduced. Rogers said he is in full support of students missing class to vote and that the current COVID-19 pandemic makes it easier not to penalize students.

The resolution specifically asks faculty not to take attendance on Election Day, however, the language presented also clearly states that faculty are under no obligation to reformat their class schedules or assignments for that day.

“In one of my classes, it’s a senior capstone class and they are doing group projects," Rogers said. "They have an assignment due on Tuesday, but we’re not actually holding a regular class session. I am giving them that time to do their group work. So, my point being is I still have an assignment due that day, but I tried to make it so that a student wouldn’t be put in a bind of, ‘I have to be there that day for class for something critical and I want to try and vote.’”

Rogers also commended NAU and the Arizona Board of Regents for pushing the importance of civic engagement by emphasizing the importance of voting. 

Lecturer in the School of Communication Jermaine Martinez is also in support of the resolution. Martinez said he rarely penalizes students for attendance or lack of attendance because it isn’t a proper way to measure a student's success.

“From that particular philosophy … I believe if you’re going to miss my class, especially on a voting day, then obviously you’ve determined that that is a priority in your life and that’s important," Martinez said. "That’s a priority. I feel that way about anytime a student misses. Now, having said that … it’s your responsibility to get the notes, it’s your responsibility to set up an accommodation with me personally.”

A common misconception Carter clarified is classes are not canceled, nor are professors obligated to not penalize students for missing class. The resolution is simply a request, not a command, for faculty to accommodate students who wish to perform their civic duty on Election Day.

“We are already asking faculty and professors to accommodate students’ right to vote by not taking attendance, by not penalizing students for being absent,” Carter said. “But we thought it was not our authority or it also might detract from the resolution if we did not include something in there that said we’re not expecting you guys to pushback exam dates. We’re not expecting you guys to not give a lecture on Tuesday and instead do something completely different because it is not our place to do that.”

Martinez explained there may be concerns with some students taking advantage of this resolution to simply skip class. However, Martinez also trusts that a majority of students would not wrongfully take advantage of the resolution, but it does offer a "get-out-of-class free" card.

“This gets right to the heart of explanations as motives because what we have and what this resolution has done is provided a ready-to- hand explanation for missing class. And students, knowing that this is now the writ of the day, can pull upon that as a persuasive resource for saying, ‘I’m sorry, professor, I have to go vote,’” Martinez said. “It’s an explanation that professors will buy and that’s key. The key thing is you only have a motive to do something when you can explain your actions.”

Carter emphasized there are no formal procedures for students to inform their professors if they will not be in class, instead, it is up to the students to inform their professors if they will be in attendance or not. Carter said the resolution is designed in a way that accommodations are completely up to the individual professors.

Carter said the resolution specifically states Nov. 3, 2020, and does not include any future Election Days because the idea of this resolution is to act as a stepping stone for future Election Day proposals. 

“My idea of a resolution is that it is the opinion of the Senate that was elected that year. So the Senate of 2020, it’s our opinion that professors should not penalize students for being absent,” Carter said. “And so with that, the reason we specify Election Day 2020 is because that is our opinion of the Senate right now. Whereas next year … we don’t know how the Senate is going to look and so we don’t want to speak for future Senates.”

As Election Day approaches, Carter said students — the youth — have an immense amount of power in voting and encourages them to take full advantage of it in the upcoming election.