"We believe our students can manage a test and vote all in the same day," says University spokesperson Carol Wood, responding to complaints that UVA doesn't make Election Day voting easier for students.
"Rumors of Virginia's demise as a swing state are highly exaggerated," wrote UVA's Larry Sabato in his Crystal Ball report.
file photo by Will Walker
With just days to go before the Presidential election, new information released by the State Board of Elections suggests that getting to the polls in Virginia on Election Day may be more important than ever. Just four days ago, the Board reported that the absentee voting rate was actually 30 percent lower compared to the same time in 2008.
"That's a pretty big fall off in absentee voting," says Geoffrey Skelley, a political analyst at the University of Virginia Center for Politics, who points out the Elections Board discovered the drop after finding an error in its earlier analysis.
In a state that, as the Center's Larry Sabato pointed out six days ago, is "tilting toward Romney, but only by a hair," a few thousand, or even a few hundred votes could determine who wins Virginia and, perhaps, the whole shebang.
They're taking the closeness seriously over at the Obama headquarters in Charlottesville. After fielding complaints from UVA students– many of whom will be voting for the first time– about an economics professor who scheduled a major exam for November 6 at 5:30pm, the campaign organized a shuttle from the professor's classroom to the polls.
"My first thought was that this exam shouldn't be allowed," says fourth-year UVA student Rachel Lucy. "It seems unethical.
"We live in a state in which a handful of votes may decide the election, and this election will affect the lives of millions of people," says Lucy, noting several friends share her concerns.
In a broader sense, Lucy believes that holding class at all, let alone a test, should not happen on election day.
"I think it's easy for us to take democracy for granted," says Lucy, "because it's all we have known, but there are people in other countries who risk their lives in the hope that their voices will be heard. The University should encourage civic engagement, not make it more difficult."
Back before the 2008 Presidential election, UVA was in the news when 2,723 people signed a petition organized by student Democrats and Republicans asking that professors who schedule exams or deadlines for major assignments on Election Day consider rescheduling them, or give students a break if they miss them, to make it easier to get out and vote.
"By expressing an understanding of the students’ desire to partake in this election," the petition stated, "the administration and faculty of UVA will be sending a message indicating the significance of students' actively participating in the electoral process.
The University declined to heed the petition's demand in 2008, and UVA appears to have no intention of heeding it this time either.
"We believe our students can manage a test and vote all in the same day," says University spokesperson Carol Wood.
However, a certain institution of higher learning to the south, Liberty University in Lynchburg, founded by an icon of conservative politics, has taken a different stance, instituting an Election Day tradition of canceling classes and even providing buses to the polls to encourage voter participation.
Some UVA faculty wonder why UVA won't take the step of encouraging faculty to clear schedules that day, something Architecture School Dean Karen Van Lengen did in 2008.
"She issued a request to faculty to take Election Day into account in their course planning," says Rachel Lucy's father, Architecture School professor Bill Lucy. "Virginia has become a swing state. Voting obstacles are serious."
Back in 2008, UVA Economics Professor Kenneth Elzinga's scheduling of an important exam for his Econ 1010 class on Election Day was mentioned in the student petition, and when he scheduled it again for Election Day this year, it sent up red flags for Professor Lucy.
The class has about 1,000 students, most of them 1st and 2nd years, and the course is an important prerequisite for getting into the McIntire School of Commerce.
Elzinga, a highly respected economist who received the University's highest honor in 1992, The Thomas Jefferson Award, has made no secret of his opinions about the current President's policies. In 2009, he was one of 200 economists who signed a newspaper ad opposing the administration's stimulus bill, an ad funded by the libertarian-leaning Cato Institute.
"Is it really necessary to schedule an exam at that time?" Bill Lucy wonders.
Professor Elzinga did not respond to requests for comment. However, the Hook has learned that he has recently re-scheduled the exam for November 13.
"I think we can thank Hurricane Sandy for that, though," says Rachel Lucy.
If there is little official UVA sympathy for the alleged Election Day voting woes of its students, spokesperson Wood claims the University has "not received, to my knowledge, one complaint about the election and having to work around academic schedules."
She also has some stern advice for those who think exams and and assignments pose obstacles to voting.
"If students want to exercise their right to vote, then they need to take the personal responsibility that goes with it– which is finding the time to do it," says Wood. "When they graduate and move into the real work-a-day world, no one is going to give them a day off to vote."
Indeed, this election year, that could be a big responsibility.