February 19, 2019 | 28° F

EDITORIAL: Nov. 6 ought to be day of civic duty


Rutgers should educate students on engagement


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Democratic representation is built on pillars of inclusion and the will, opinion and consent of the governed. For the representative structure to be stable and uphold foundational values, it requires harmony between substantive and descriptive representation in which the values and characteristics of the electorate are reflected in the government, broad citizen eligibility for public office, uncompromisable voting rights, accountable effectiveness and policy influence based in the people. The system in which democratic representation acts as an engine of prosperity and progress for all holds the overarching characteristic of high voter turnout.

In recent elections, America lacks this fundamental characteristic. With midterm elections tomorrow, this nation will go to the polls following two historically low turnout elections. Among the economically developed countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the United States ranked 26 out of 32 in voter turnout among voter age population in 2016. In the last midterm election in 2014, only 36 percent of the voting-age population even bothered to cast a ballot. According to a study done by the Pew Research Center, 35 percent of registered voters’ reasons for not voting in 2014 were schedule conflicts with work or school and 34 percent said they were either too busy, out of town, sick or forgot.

With 35 percent of registered voters not voting simply because of societal constraints in employment and education, a change is needed. While there has been a movement to make Election Day a national holiday, the efforts have yet to bear legislative fruit.

The Institute for Policy Studies, in a report recognizing the need for a re-engagement of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.'s Poor People’s Campaign, noted “More than 50 years after the Voting Rights Act, people of color still face a broad range of attacks on their voting rights, including racist gerrymandering and redistricting, felony disenfranchisement and a variety of laws designed to make it harder to vote.” 

Within our political system that stymies political engagement, Rutgers ought to take decisive steps in promoting civic engagement and aiding in the actualization of civic duties within the student body.

Classes ought to be cancelled on Election Day as though it were a national holiday, or at the very least, there must be a policy implemented that allows voting to be cause for an excused absence.

The University is in a unique position to not only ease one of the most important democratic processes and use of rights in America, but it is also capable of using a day without classes to host open workshops and lectures informing the student body and providing necessary civic engagement lessons.

When young people engage with current issues in an educational and academic setting “they tend to have greater interest in politics, improved critical thinking and communications skills, more civic knowledge and more interest in discussing public affairs out of school," according to the Civic Mission of Schools.

A Civic Duty Day of sorts would eliminate a key obstacle in voting and provide an opportunity for the school to supplement the dire need for civic education in America. A 2016 survey by the Annenberg Public Policy Center found that only 26 percent of Americans can name all three branches of government, a significant decline from previous years.

It should be the mission of all universities that their students have a foundational understanding of the country in which they live and the institutions that affect their day-to-day lives.

The pervasive culture of low voter turnout has been a part of the American identity for too long. If governmental institutions will not act on our behalf, our educational institutions must lift up the discarded torch and lead us out of our apathetic and inactive darkness. Rutgers ought to treat Election Day as the national holiday it is and ensure that the student body is unhindered in use of their right to vote.


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