Community College of Philadelphia cancels classes on Election Day to promote student voting

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There were lots of demonstrations of the new Philly voting machines, but not everyone got a chance to try them before Election Day. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

There were lots of demonstrations of the new Philly voting machines, but not everyone got a chance to try them before Election Day. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Community College of Philadelphia has canceled all classes and will close on-campus facilities on Nov. 3 to maximize student voter turnout on Election Day.

So far, CCP is the only college in the Delaware Valley to fully cancel classes that day. Drexel University announced it will end the day early, at 2 p.m.

CCP’s president, Donald Guy Generals, decided instead to turn Election Day into a day of service for students to be civically engaged.

“We’re taking an out-of-the-box approach from the classroom, professor-to-students curriculum,” said Michelle Lopez, who manages CCP’s Institute for Community Engagement and Civic Leadership. “We feel for our students, because if they feel connected to the recent injustices that are happening right now, we want them to feel empowered that they can make decisions around things that can correct these large systemic issues.”

The school’s #CCPVotes initiative encourages students to vote by mail, but they expect many students will still vote in person.

Those students come from a multitude of different backgrounds, Lopez said, and four years ago some said it was tough to attend all their classes and also get to the polls.

“We’re putting in all the effort to really be accessible, to allow folks to make it work within their schedules,” Lopez said. “When we were promoting our voting plans to students [in 2016], we often heard, ‘I’m in class all day,’ or ‘I’m working.’ This will free up some time for them to make a plan to ensure that they’re voting.”

Because classes are being held virtually because of COVID-19 restrictions, CCP has found it more challenging to reach students. Unable to canvass around campus or hold in-person registration fairs, the college has been sending student ambassadors to virtual classrooms to discuss the importance of voting.

Ahmad Mitchell, a CCP student and first-time voter helping recruit classmates to turn out, said the biggest challenge facing his generation is apathy.

“You hear a lot of times that people just won’t vote because they feel like their vote won’t change anything, but that’s just not true,” Mitchell said. “People are looking for a candidate who will leverage the power of their office to address the issues we’re facing.”

Mitchell said when it comes to issues, CCP students are most concerned about ending gun violence, improving the quality of Philadelphia’s public schools, and putting a stop to police brutality.

“I think people want to see a candidate that will give them something new, but they don’t want to go backward,” he said. “They want to go into the future with something new that works for everyone.”

The student body is made up of mostly Democrats, Mitchell said, so the campus is likely to vote for Joe Biden, but he noted that he’s been working on getting students engaged in the other races on the ballot.

“When you’re voting for a city councilperson, the sheriff, all these other offices, they affect your everyday life even more. The down-ballot candidates really decide what support your community gets, the state of the roads, how your community will be affected, and that your representatives in your neighborhoods are really looking out for your best interest.”

In 2016, CCP reported that 63% of its students voted — much higher than the national average for students, which was around 45% in the 2012 and 2016 elections. Lopez and Mitchell both expect that number will be even higher this election.

At Drexel University, students asked the administration to cancel classes for Election Day as well. Instead, the university will end classes that day by 2 p.m.

“With the prospect of a global pandemic, national civil unrest, a jeopardized postal service, and a nationwide poll worker shortage threatening to decimate an already dismal voter turnout, we knew we had to do more than simply say, ‘Get out and vote,’” said Drexel student body vice president Jarod Watson.

Many speculate that the 2020 general election could yield historically high youth voter turnout, despite college campuses facing the challenge of engaging students without physical locations to have events.

Which way will Pa. vote?

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