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Should Election Day Be a National Holiday in the U.S.?

By Edited Oct 10, 2016 1 2
American flag
Credit: NeoQlassical via Pixabay CC0 Public Domain https://pixabay.com/en/american-flag-patriotic-symbol-usa-763428/

In the United States, Election Day is the day people who are eligible to vote have the opportunity to get out and vote the candidates they feel best represents their views (or, unfortunately in some cases, get the chance to vote the lesser of evils!) This ability to vote is a precious right and privilege. Election Day is an important day, no doubt about it, but should it be designated as a federal holiday?

History of Election Day

In the early days of America, states set their own election dates and were not standardized. This, not surprisingly, led to a lot of election chaos. To resolve this issue, Congress decided in 1845 to make Election Day take place on a Tuesday each year. To keep it consistent, it would fall on the Tuesday following the first Monday of November. During this era, this made sense since weekends were reserved for worship and travel could not take place to get to the polls, so Monday elections were not an option. Wednesdays were market days – so Tuesdays it became. [1]

Reasons to Designate Election Day as a Holiday

With such low voter turnout in the population, many are looking at ways to make it easier for people to get to the polls. Supporters of making Election Day a federal holiday say setting aside a special day for people to vote would encourage more people to the polls. Senator Bernie Sanders even submitted a bill last year suggesting Congress establish “Democracy Day”.  [2]

On Tuesdays, more than 100 million people are either working or in the classroom, reports CNBC. [3] The days of riding a horse and buggy to go to the polls to vote have long passed, so the argument is that an election day on a Tuesday doesn’t make sense in a modern world. 

Voting in United States
Credit: Maialisa via Pixabay CC0 Public Domain https://pixabay.com/en/vote-generic-2016-america-campaign-1286584/

Isn’t It Possible the Opposite Effect Could Occur?

Proponents for making Election Day a federal holiday have good intentions, but couldn’t the opposite effect occur? Think about it. Does the U.S. really need another holiday which will evolve into a day where people lose focus of the reason behind the holiday? The significance of holidays such as Memorial Day, 4th of July, Labor Day and Veterans Day holidays, to name a few, have already been diminished.

If Election Day were deemed a federal day of observance to put emphasis on the right to vote, what are the odds it will stay true to its purpose? If other established holidays are any indicator, probably slim to none.

White House
Credit: Leigh Goessl

Statistics suggest that in the 2016 presidential election year, the two primary candidates vying for the White House, Donald Trump (R) and Hillary Clinton (D), have low support numbers. 

If designated a federal holiday, before we know it, the usual Tuesday designated to vote will be moved to a Monday. This will maximize time off from work and add another long weekend to the calendar year. Certainly, the travel industry will start offering discounted rates for people to jet off to a warm and sunny destination to enjoy the long weekend, offering people a temptation to throw away the chance to vote in favor of taking the advantage of a holiday trip. Sure, absentee ballots could be cast, but this is already an option in many states and it hasn’t increased voter turnout.

Not to mention, an entire economy is not going to shut down so people can vote. This means anyone working for private business is still going to be faced with the same reasons they already are not voting.

Will it Become Too Commercialized?

You've got to figure once Election Day is selected to be given federal holiday status the merchants will jump on the opportunity to offer all kinds of creative ways to commercialize the day. Can you envision it now? The myriad of greeting cards, flowers, balloons and gifts exchanged, and commercialism to downgrade the significance of going to the polls (a touch of sarcasm here, buy hey, it could happen, couldn't it?)

Preserving the Importance of the Right to Vote

The importance of the civil right and privilege to vote should be preserved by keeping the integrity associated with Election Day intact and leaving it as an "ordinary" work day. This is not to suggest Election Day is just another "ordinary" day because it's not, but wouldn't attaching the label of "holiday" automatically remove the emphasis of casting a ballot and make voting secondary?

In the United States, the voting turnouts are already at approximately the 50 percent range in presidential elections. [4] Will federalizing the day reduce those numbers even more? This doesn't even take into account the low turnouts during non-presidential election years, which were placed at about 36 percent in 2014 during the mid-term election in that year, the lowest turnout since World War II.

It seems the logic behind making Election Day a federal holiday would be done in the hopes of increasing voter turnout, but is it really going to have the desired effect?

What About the Other Options?

As it stands, the polls in a number of states are already open 12-15 hours to maximize the window for voters have time to cast their ballot, deeming a "day off" is not necessary to vote. Others offer absentee voting, early voting and online voting. But not all states have such flexible voting laws. That being the case, couldn’t a voting standard be set for all states to make it uniform?

Other ideas floated include compulsory voting (according to Bloomberg, 22 countries do, but only 11 enforce penalties when people don’t vote) or making Election Day fall on a Saturday. However, compulsory voting could create newer problems, but Saturdays or Sundays might just be a feasible option (with extended hours and early voting like many states have now).

In the United States, the election system already has significant problems between its structure and the turnout of voters, does it need to include the added complications of "holiday status" to further detract from the importance of Election Day?

Why do you think so many Americans choose not to vote? Is it truly the inability to get to the polls or is it something else? (i.e. voter apathy?)

Should Election Day be a National Holiday in the United States? What do you think?

Inauguration preparation in 2013, Washington, D.C.
Credit: Leigh Goessl
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Comments

Oct 10, 2016 9:32am
HLesley
This is an interesting idea, but having the polls stay open longer might also be a good option. In Canada, according to the Elections Act, "every voter is entitled to have three consecutive hours in which to vote" so if their work schedule does not allow this, they are entitled to ask their employer for time off work in order to vote.
Oct 13, 2016 6:35am
LeighGoessl
I like the three hours stipulation, that seems like a workable solution that could fit in with extended hours and/or switching it to a weekend.

I tend to think designating Election Day as federal holiday would backfire big time.
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Bibliography

  1. "Why Are Elections On Tuesdays?." NPR. 23/10/2012. 20/09/2016 <Web >
  2. "Make Election Day a National Holiday." Bernie Sanders United States Senator for Vermont. 20/09/2016 <Web >
  3. "Election day should be a national holiday." CNBC. 05/07/2016. 20/09/2016 <Web >
  4. "Voter Turnout in Presidential Elections: 1828 - 2012." The American Presidency Project. 20/09/2016 <Web >
  5. "Obama Says Mandatory Voting Would 'Completely Change' U.S. Political Map ." Bloomberg . 18/03/2015. 20/09/2016 <Web >

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