On Thursday, September 20th, three members including Allison Lantagne, Jay Rumas, and myself from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of URI presented in front of Faculty Senate. Our cause: to work with Faculty Senate so that URI lives up to its stated values, one of which is “Engaged learning and civic involvement”. Currently classes are held on Election Day, meaning that URI has not only not lived up to this core value, it has put obstacles to enfranchisement, and voter turnout. The ACLU URI wants URI to remove all obstacles to voting. Before the meeting, the ACLU URI envisioned an ideal outcome: November 6th, this upcoming General Election day, would become a University sponsored event, on par with religious holidays in which students can present a valid excuse for missing class if they are exercising their civic responsibilities. Our long term goal is to have no classes on Election Day.
At this meeting, a motion to recognize this upcoming Election Day as a University sponsored event was proposed, then discussed and debated, and then passed overwhelmingly on the floor! The next step is for URI’s Provost, Mr. Donald H. DeHayes to sign the action into policy, upon which it will take effect on November 6th. Over 70% of respondents to a survey that Allison Lantagne conducted said that they would use time off on Election Day to vote. This suggests that mandatory classes on Election Day are often a substantial obstacle to enfranchisement. Thus, signing this action will likely enfranchise many URI students and faculty.
But even though all but two Faculty Senators voted in favor of turning Election Day into a University sponsored event, our Provost declined to sign the action. To justify his decline, Mr. DeHayes cited last year, when Faculty Senate moved to formally implement into the URI calendar taking the Wednesday before thanksgiving off instead of Election Day. Mr. DeHayes says that he is thus sharing the governance of the Faculty Senate. But this matter is completely separate from what Faculty Senate approved last year. This is the opportunity to make this upcoming Election Day a University sponsored event, not to implement a consistent calendar change. Currently, the Calendar Committee is revisiting whether last year’s action even made sense. If Mr. DeHayes is truly siding with Faculty Senate as he purports, then he should side with the overwhelming majority that voted in favor of turning this Election Day into a University sponsored event. If Mr. DeHayes doesn’t sign the action, it can be said that URI is deliberately disenfranchising students and faculty. The ACLU URI, our faculty representatives, and possibly thousands of other civic participants at URI now call on Mr. DeHayes to uphold URI’s values, and the right to vote without repression. Many political scientists believe that this may be the most important midterm elections at the very least in our generation, and at the most throughout all of American history. URI, please let us participate unobstructed in making our history.
Sam Foer – President of the ACLU URI