In the midst of an ongoing debate over the flaw of voter suppression in our democracy, one overarching question has been growing in my mind. Why do we hold our elections on a Tuesday? I had no idea, and as I began to do some research, I found that no one else really does either.
The official reason behind the 19th century law has to do with the trip that voters had to make to polls by horse and carriage and not traveling on the Sabbath, so Tuesday was ultimately the best day. But 200 years later, why do we still adhere to this reasoning? Why Tuesday, a non-partisan nonprofit dedicated to increasing voter turnout and political participation, asked 2008 candidates and found that not even our nation’s politicians know why we hold elections on Tuesday. Mitt Romney even said outright, “I have no idea.” In a political system plagued by lack of voters, am I the only one absolutely baffled by this? We consider ourselves the pillars of democracy, but did you know that we have one of the lower voter turnouts in the world? It’s hard enough to convince people that their vote matters enough to get them to the polls, how can we expect working class parents, people that have to take difficult public transportation to work, and those who work two jobs or overtime to do so?
There are two possible solutions to this problem. The first is to make elections on a weekend like they do in many countries. This would be a substantial improvement, but many people still have to work on the weekends, especially lower class jobs.
A more dramatic and effective solution would be to make Nov. 6 a national holiday. The obvious impact this would have is that it would give everyone an equal opportunity to vote because no one would ever have to miss voting because of work. There would be no excuse for not voting. There also wouldn’t be as long of lines if everyone wasn’t trying to squeeze in time to go to the polls before and after work and on their lunch breaks.
But beyond that, creating a national election holiday would make voting a sacred thing that our nation takes seriously. In addition, it would be a celebration of participating in our democracy, placing it as a cornerstone of our calendar and our value system. People would pay more attention to the election; it would be impossible to ignore. A full day dedicated to and centered around the election would encourage active participation in addition to just casting a ballot.
Here is where my idea gets genius. It is understandable that businesses would be opposed to giving their employees another day off of work. I propose that we change the date of the President’s Day holiday to November 6 and use it as a national election day. Although President’s Day is currently celebrated on Washington’s birthday, it is a generic holiday intended to honor the office of the Presidency. First of all, out of all of our holidays, in my opinion this would clearly be the one to go. The nation’s spotlight is always on our commander in chief, they don’t need their own holiday too. At the least, it is definitely less important than the effect making an election holiday would have on voter turnout and thus our democracy. Secondly, if the holiday is really intended to clecbrate the Presidency, then what better way to do that than to make it a day when everyone can vote on it!
If we did transform President’s Day to both honor the Presidency and hold election, moving it from February 22 to November 6, it would also be important that kids get the day off from school too. I think having a school holiday would have an incredible effect because kids associate great importance with anything that gives them a day off from school, and because then that day they would hopefully see their parents vote and be part of the election-centered envirmonemt that I hope such a holiday would invoke. This would lead to future generations of active voters, and ultimately a much healthier democracy.