Carnegie Mellon University

September 22, 2020

Dear Members of the CMU Community: 

In less than 50 days, the United States will hold important elections to determine our representation at the local, state and federal levels. Today, as we celebrate National Voter Registration Day in the U.S., I am writing to underscore the importance of our civic engagement during this election season and to encourage all eligible CMU community members to make a plan to vote. 

No matter your political affiliation or beliefs, exercising your right to vote is one of the most impactful ways you can engage in our democracy. At Carnegie Mellon, we support this vital civic process as both an expression of our commitment to a positive societal impact as well as our respect for the role of civil discourse on the issues that will impact our shared future. 

Voting is not only political; it can also be deeply personal. I remember vividly the day that I took my 2-year-old son with me when I voted for the very first time in a U.S. presidential election in November 1992. After immigrating to this country at a young age, I was filled with pride at that moment. It was an enormous privilege to participate in the sacred process at the heart of our democracy, and a sense of responsibility to make the most of this freedom has stayed with me ever since. Especially for students who will be voting for the first time, I would encourage you to explore, and tap into, your own personal motivation for civic engagement. 

While Election Day is November 3, you should consider your voting plan now. In addition to in-person voting, please note that you also have the option to vote by mail, which will require you to take action sooner. You may wish to visit the Student Leadership, Involvement and Civic Engagement (SLICE) website for deadlines, information on how to vote and links to other voting resources, including ways to be an informed voter. While the news has been dominated by the presidential election, there are many other important elections for key positions, such as Congressional representatives, district attorneys and school board leaders. Please read about the candidates in your district and research the issues on the ballot in your area. 

CMU is committed to making it as easy as possible for you to vote, engage and get involved, so please take note of the following resources and reminders: 

For Faculty and Staff

I ask supervisors to be flexible with work schedules on Election Day to ensure all members of the CMU community can take the time they need to vote. If you plan to vote in person, I encourage you to work with your supervisors to arrange for early dismissal or late arrival. 

In addition, if you wish to volunteer on Election Day, we encourage you to do so and we will support you in this service to the community. Volunteering at the polls can alleviate the stress on many senior citizens who typically volunteer on Election Day but who may be at higher risk for COVID-19 complications. In Pennsylvania, the Department of State offers a Poll Worker Recruitment Toolkit that can help get you started. Please work with your supervisor for approval and to make those arrangements now. Staff (exempt and non-exempt) who are approved to volunteer will receive pay for time spent volunteering. This flexibility also applies to our students working as research and teaching assistants. 

For Students

Like faculty and staff, it is critical that students have flexibility to vote and participate in the electoral process. I have asked Provost Jim Garrett to work with the deans and academic leadership to ensure faculty offer flexibility to students who may need some extra time outside the classroom to vote or to volunteer on November 3. There are also a number of efforts underway to promote and support voter engagement among CMU students: 

  • A non-partisan Voting Engagement Committee aims to empower students to participate in the civic process. If you are interested in joining the Voting Engagement Committee, please email SLICE.
  • CMU recently launched in partnership with the non-profit, Democracy Works. TurboVote makes it easy to register and can send reminders about where and how to vote.
  • Now through Election Day, SLICE is also organizing grassroots efforts to help students, and their organizations, engage their peers. Opportunities include virtual friend-to-friend voter registration drives, the #CMUvotes social media campaign and other activities. If you are interested in participating, please email SLICE.

Finally, I wish to note that this year marks the centennial anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment that granted women the right to vote. I invite you to explore an exhibition at the Miller ICA called Get Out the Vote: Empowering the Women’s Vote, featuring posters designed by diverse artists, including local BIPOC artists who are women, trans or non-binary, to promote civic engagement. Free editions of posters will be made available through the run of the exhibition, so visitors can participate by picking up a free poster. More information on virtual tours and limited in-person hours for the CMU community is available on their website. 

Voting is the cornerstone of our democracy and one of the most important ways we contribute to our communities. I hope you will join me in engaging in this important process this year. 


Farnam Jahanian
Henry L. Hillman President's Chair