To many Georgetown students, politics is a way of life. When E.B. White said, “Democracy is itself a religious faith. For some it comes close to being the only formal religion they have,” he could very well have been channeling the fervor of so many of our peers. So why can’t Georgetown treat Election Day the way it treats certain religious holidays?

If Georgetown students will be canvassing, reminding people to vote by going door-to-door or working as a poll worker, they should be allowed to excuse themselves from classes and assignments on Nov. 4, just as students can be excused for religious holidays. Students who choose not to volunteer or vote should have to attend classes and hand in assignments as usual. If the administration does not officially adopt this policy, professors should strongly consider excusing students from class to volunteer on an ad hoc basis.

Understandably, some professors are reluctant to give students the day off. First, this policy would be difficult to enforce because there is no reliable way to verify what students actually did on Election Day. Second, some professors argue that voting and volunteering are civic responsibilities that must be scheduled around other obligations. Professor Charles King, the chairman of the faculty of the School of Foreign Service, observes that going to class does not hinder students’ ability to engage in political activity. Professor King said, “Exercising the right to vote is something that we all have to fit in around our other commitments, such as going to class or going to a job. That’s why I’ll already be in line when my local polling station opens [on Election Day].” While these are reasonable lines of argument, we respectfully disagree.

As one of the country’s leading authorities on American presidential elections, Georgetown professor Stephen Wayne argues that our democracy would be healthier if Election Day were a national holiday. In his recent book “The Road to the White House 2008,” he writes, “Another idea to enhance turnout would be to make Election Day a national holiday or move it to Veteran’s Day, which comes later in the month. Presumably, either change would prevent work-related activities from interfering with voting as much as they do now for the bulk of the population.” While Professor Wayne does not teach any classes that meet on Tuesdays this semester, we hope he would have cancelled class on Nov. 4.

Other professors should consider the logic behind this argument when they decide whether or not to accept students’ requests for the day off. The College Democrats also seem to support the policy. Adam Feiler, president of the College Democrats, said, “Whether Election Day is officially given off or not, we will be encouraging all Hoyas to go out to battleground Virginia and help support their favorite candidates.”

Looking ahead to future presidential election cycles, the university administration should consider cancelling classes on the day of the general election. It would not make sense to cancel classes for the nomination contests or local elections because Georgetown students hail from almost every state in the country. But we only have one national election, and we can all have an impact, whether we’re from the area or not. Professor Eric Langenbacher thinks this policy might be open to abuse, however, saying, “It might be better to make such volunteering an acceptable excused absence for any student who requests (and/or has evidence of such activity). Thus, only the motivated ones would be allowed to be absent.”

Universities are laboratories of ideas, and we have a special obligation to be forward-thinking in our research and in our administrative policies. This is an important opportunity for professors and administrators to make a policy that matches the wisdom of our best research. Giving us Inauguration Day off is a great policy that inspires pride in the political process, but establishing Election Day as a university holiday would help to shape the process itself.

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