Jessie Cheung, Staff Photographer

On Monday, the Yale College Democrats released their 2021 Voting Climate Report. Among other items, the report discussed voting culture and voter history on campus, compared voting at Yale to that at peer institutions and proposed several plans to increase voter engagement on campus.

The Dems’ voter engagement fellows, Vanessa Nunez ’23, Isabella Morales ’24 and Colby Bladow ’24, worked on the 28-page document throughout the semester. 

“We thought [the report] would be useful, one to present to admin in a succinct way what our proposals are and the reasonings for them, but also just for record-keeping, so that future Yale students have a reference of what voting was like in 2020 and what voting barriers existed then for students,” Dems Vice President Kennedy Bennett ’22 said.

The first proposal in the report was to make national Election Day a University holiday. The day off would increase student voter turnout and increase voting accessibility for faculty and staff, the report argued.

Last fall, students asked Dean of Yale College Marvin Chun to make Election Day a day off from classes. Bennett believes one of the reasons that the proposal never passed is because there was not accessible data to back it up. In a way, this report serves to provide that data.

To support the proposal, the report referenced the 2020 Yale College Council Fall Survey, through which 76.5 percent of students surveyed said they would be in favor of a day off for voting.

“This report is also in one sense us coming back to admin saying ‘Hey, we heard what you said in the fall, now we have this data. … There’s proof from all angles that having Election Day off is something that is widely supported,” Bennett said.

Other proposals in the report include providing a more robust absentee ballot system, having Yale include voter registration materials in first-year orientation packets and establishing a civic engagement center.

Galia Newberger ’24, a voter engagement fellow, believes that the proposal is aligned with the Yale Dems mission of making students more civically engaged.

“The voting climate report was very revealing in that we are behind our [peer institutions], which is alarming,” Newberger said. “If Yale wants to be able to educate the next generation of civically engaged students, getting students to the polls is invaluable.”

In addition to the proposals, the report compared Yale’s civic engagement with that of its peer institutions. 

Brown and Columbia have named Election Day a university holiday, while Harvard, Cornell and Northwestern have “integrated civic engagement efforts into established student centers on campus,” according to the report.

“When you look at peer institutions like Harvard, Brown, Northwestern, even Cornell, they are just doing so much more to make voting accessible and to address the issue of voter suppression among college students that Yale administration just kind of cares to not prioritize,” Yale Dems President Grace Whittington ’22 said.

Whittington acknowledged that these other institutions not only have students writing reports similar to the Voting Climate Report but are also getting paid to do so. She also acknowledged the support that students at these schools receive from faculty members and administrators. 

The report also discussed Yale students’ voting history, detailing the efforts made by Yale Dems and other campus student groups to increase voter engagement in past years.

For example, the report detailed the lawsuit made by Joseph Rubin ’71 and Mark Lecinger ’71 against the city of New Haven. The pair argued that “the city discriminated against students by assuming that New Haven was not their permanent residence,” according to the report.

“If anyone was going to take a main takeaway from that section, it would be that most of the initiatives that were aimed at making voting more accessible on campus were student-led,” Whittington said. “There’s a glaring gap where [the] administration could play a role.”

Just months after a national election, one might think that a report on voting reform is untimely. Whittington disagrees.

“The way that any institution works is that if you are not thinking about the year ahead at this current moment, it won’t happen,” Whittington said. “The spring actually is the time to be talking about voting accessibility. While there aren’t really campaigns to majorly be working on, we do need to be putting the infrastructure in place to make sure that when the elections do come around, there is a strong, positive culture of voting on this campus.”

Election Day is an annual day dedicated to the general elections of federal public officials.

Alex Ori | alex.ori@yale.edu