OPINION: Is It Time to Make Election Day a Holiday?
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) denounced an election reform and anti-corruption bill put forth by House Democrats, calling the bill a “power grab.” The H.R.1 proposal details several changes to current legislation surrounding elections, but the proposition that Election Day should become a federal holiday to encourage voter turnout enraged McConnell most.
The U.S. has one of the lowest voter turnout rates of countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), according to the Pew Research Center. Two-thirds of those who had not cast a ballot in the 2016 presidential election reported that they did not vote for reasons related to lack of time. Another ten percent reported in a separate Pew Research Center survey that they did not vote due to technical difficulties with their registrations. The United States is also one of the few developed countries without a holiday on the general election day.
The U.S. holds elections on the first Tuesday in November, a practice going back to before the Transportation Revolution, according to the Library of Congress. Farmers living in remote areas did not want to travel on Sundays to cast a ballot, so Tuesday was chosen.
In the modern day, however, people’s work schedules are governed by their employers, not the timing of the fall harvest. More than 20 states currently require that employers give either paid or unpaid time off so that their employees can vote.
For those who do not live in states with legislation requiring time off, American democracy resembles a more Aristotelian one, where the right to participate in politics belongs only to people with enough power or wealth to take time off.
As he railed against the proposal, McConnell said, “Just what America needs: another paid holiday,” mirroring sentiments published in a Washington Post op-ed on January 17.
While the majority of Americans favor making Election Day a federal holiday, according to surveys, many wonder why this has become a partisan issue and what they should fear from empowering more Americans to participate in their democracy.