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Student wonders why colleges aren't closed on election day

Oct. 27, 2012 @ 12:20 AM

HUNTINGTON -- A Marshall University freshman is questioning why his school and the other public universities and colleges in the state are not closing on Election Day.

David Bender, a 2012 graduate of Nitro High School, stated in a letter to The Herald-Dispatch and other news organizations across the state that not closing public higher education institutions -- as is the case with public school systems and government offices -- has the potential to hinder students and employees from casting a ballot.

Higher education institutions aren't mandated to follow the state's legal holidays. Marshall students attend on Veterans Day, any election day, President's Day, West Virginia Day and Columbus Day.

Bender said not recognizing the general election can create difficulties for students from other parts of the state who may wish to return home to vote.

"I am writing ... on behalf of students and faculty of these colleges. While state workers, teachers, students and politicians are given the day off, we are being forced by our state's government to attend the schools whose policies they dictate," Bender said. "We are asking that the presidents of individual schools as well as the governor of the great state of West Virginia take immediate action to ensure that students are excused from classes in order to return home to vote."

Steve Hensley, dean of Student Affairs, said he understands those concerns. But he said Marshall and the other institutions need every instructional day available. And, he noted the 13 days of early voting, which started Wednesday. That includes 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 27, and Saturday, Nov. 3, in each county statewide. Absentee balloting also is available.

The West Virginia Secretary of State's Office lists several instances which may prevent someone from voting on Election Day, including attending college. The best way to cast a ballot is for students to request an absentee ballot through the county clerk's office in their home county. Those are sent through the mail and must be received no later than the sixth day before the election, which means Wednesday, Oct. 31.

Marybeth Beller, the chairwoman of the Department of Political Science at Marshall, said she is unaware of any higher education institutions in the U.S. that completely shut down on Election Day. She also said there is time and options for students to vote.

Beller added that public schools don't shut down necessarily to allow teachers to vote.

"K-12 schools are generally closed on election days because those are the community centers in so many towns and cities, so they become polling places," Beller said.

For more information on early voting or absentee ballots in West Virginia, visit www.wvsos.gov/elections.