YES: A holiday? Yes. But other election reforms are needed as well
Americans should have options to vote in a secure and accessible way. One possibility many have raised is making Election Day a national federal holiday. While giving Americans a day devoted to voting is a good idea, it must also be coupled with other election reforms to make sure no one is left out of the political process.
The fact that we hold elections on Tuesdays, when many people are at work or in school, is a problem for too many voters. A 2017 Pew study found that nearly 16% of registered voters who did not vote in the 2016 election reported that they did not cast a ballot because of being too busy, a conflicting schedule, or inconvenient hours or polling places. That 16% may not seem like a lot, but it represents tens of millions of potential voters who were not able to make their voices heard because of the timing of the election.
Making Election Day a holiday is not a new idea. In fact, many companies have already started to give their employees Election Day off, including Best Buy, Gap, Nike and Visa.
Not only would making Election Day a federal holiday give more people the freedom to vote, it would also make the practice of voting more of a celebration as well as a responsibility. After all, our ability to choose the future for our families, our communities and our country through our vote is something to be celebrated. It could also help with poll worker shortages, as more people would have free time to volunteer or work at the polls.
But we also cannot ignore the challenges and unintended consequences of creating a new federal Election Day holiday. First, many front-line workers do not get federal holidays off and likely would not get Election Day off even if it is a national holiday. That includes many low-income workers in the service and restaurant industry. A recent report from Restaurant Opportunities Centers United found that people of color and women make up a disproportionate percentage of low-paying restaurant employees. People of color and low-income Americans already face several barriers to vote, and making Election Day a national holiday may not help them.
Many Americans are not aware of it, but there is a law requiring that employers give their employees time off to vote. Regardless of that law, voting is a hardship for many Americans. Low-wage earners often cannot afford to take time off work to vote. Many work multiple jobs, so no one job would be covered by the law. Employees in the service sector often have little recourse if their employer doesn’t want to let people off to vote because the law is not generally enforced.
It’s just not restaurant and service industry workers who may be left out of this holiday. Several other types of employers, including hospitals, retail stores and manufacturing companies, often stay open on federal holidays. Plus, child care services and public transportation may be limited or not offered on public holidays. That poses a big problem for seniors, students and people with disabilities who rely on public transportation to travel to their polling places. People with disabilities already face many challenges in order to vote, and limiting public transit options would only compound their difficulties.
Ultimately, if we are going to make Election Day a federal holiday, we must also expand other voting opportunities, such as early voting and voting by mail, at the same time to make sure no one is left out and everyone has a chance to make their voice heard. A number of states do not offer early voting or no-excuse absentee ballots. Extended nationwide early voting, either by mail or in person, would actually make it more convenient for more Americans to vote than a national holiday would.
We also know that many people report they don’t vote because of registration problems, so passing reforms that modernize and secure the voter registration process is also key to increasing political participation opportunities for all Americans. These reforms include automatically registering eligible voters when they interact with a government agency, letting people register to vote online through a secure portal and allowing people to register to vote on Election Day.
When it comes to strengthening our democracy and including more people in the political process, there is no one silver bullet reform. Instead, we have to focus on creating a voter-centric system to achieve our ultimate goal: fair, accessible and secure elections for all eligible voters.
Sylvia Albert is the director of voting and elections at Common Cause. She wrote this for InsideSources.com.
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No: We need better informed, not more, voters
If you want to make Election Day a national holiday because you believe American workers should have more days off to hang out with their families — or pound a few brewskis with their buds — I’m all in.
But making Election Day a holiday because you want to increase voter turnout? Count me out. Way too many Americans are voting already.
Don’t believe me? Have you taken a look at the people they’re voting for?
The entire “voter suppression” conspiracy being advanced by progressives is nonsense on its face. Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams, for example, continues to say she lost the 2018 governor’s race because she was the victim of some ballot-blocking scheme.
Georgia had the 12th-highest turnout in the country in 2018, with 57% voter participation — a modern record for the Peach State.
Nationwide, turnout was above 50%, with 35 million more voters than the previous midterm election in 2014. That year, just over 36% of eligible voters showed up. This year, more than 30 million Americans had already voted two weeks before Election Day — an electoral surge never seen before.
If a right-wing cabal really is running a secret, suppress-the-vote operation, it’s the most inept conspiracy since Jussie Smollett and the Subway Sandwich Scam.
These turnout numbers prove that voting just isn’t that hard. If 118 million people did it in 2018 without a holiday, why do we need to shut down the post office and close the banks to get them to do it again?
Yes, it’s true America’s voting-age participation in elections is lower than some other developed countries. In 2016, there were about 245 million Americans ages 18 and older, and only 56% of them voted in the Donald Trump vs. Hillary Clinton throwdown.
That puts us behind countries like Australia, Belgium, Luxembourg and Singapore, who all have higher participation rates than the United States. You know what else they have? Compulsory voting.
Hey, you know who really has high voter turnout — North Korea. Is that really an improvement?
What America needs isn’t more voters. It needs better voters. People who have some vague notion of what they’re voting for or against, not just people practicing identity politics or voting with their political tribe.
If you’re rushing to the polls to cast your vote to stop the forces of QAnon, or because you seriously believe the same Republican Party that ended slavery wants to bring it back, please — stay home.
I also take umbrage with the idea that people who don’t vote are doing something wrong. Folks who follow the news and keep up with current events sometimes forget that you’re in the minority.
Under normal political circumstances, far more Americans follow the race to the World Series than the White House.
We are not a nation full of civics nerds. We’re a country that will spend as much money this year on ads for video games as for presidential campaigns (around $5 billion). Where cable TV’s “90-Day Fiance” is a ratings juggernaut. (If you haven’t seen it — don’t.)
Who wants more of the people who think professional wrestling is real or that 9/11 was an inside job to help pick the next president of the United States? Not me.
It’s time to make voting harder.
For example, the ideal ballot would have all the candidates for all the offices in one alphabetical list on one side, and the offices they seek on the other. If you can draw a line between “Donald Trump” and “President,” your vote counts. If not — you’re out.
Or we could use the “Jumble” ballot. Instead of having the names spelled out, voters would have to pick between “Oje Diben” and “Noladd Rumpt.”
So no — don’t make Election Day a holiday. But if you must, then I insist we change the date of the election to April 15: Tax Day.
It will remind everyone just how much these elections really cost.
Michael Graham is political editor at InsideSources.com.
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