Election Day National Holiday – Top 3 Pros and Cons

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Source: Brian Lyman, “A Voter’s Guide to the Amendments on the 2018 Alabama Ballot,” montgomeryadvertiser.com, Nov. 6, 2018
Election Day in the United States has occurred on the Tuesday following the first Monday in November ever since President John Tyler signed an 1845 law establishing a specific voting day for the entire country. [1] The decision was made taking into account farmers, a large portion of the voting constituency at the time, who would not have been able to travel to polling places in winter months or during planting or harvest times. [2] Sundays were for rest and worship, and on Wednesdays farmers typically sold their crops at the market, making Tuesdays the best day of the week. [1]

Over time, voting rights expanded from only white, male landowners age 21 and older to include women and people of color, as well as citizens age 18 and up, resulting in a dramatic increase in the voting-eligible population and a shift in voter demographics. [3] In 1800, 83% of the American labor force was agrarian, but today only 11% of total US employment is agriculture-related. [4][5]

The United States currently has 10 national holidays, including Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Christmas Day. [6] Election Day could be made a holiday if a bill were passed by the House and Senate then signed into law by the president. Approximately two million people who work for the federal government would be given a paid day off, and private companies might follow suit. [7] A handful of states have made election day a state holiday, including New York, Hawaii, Kentucky, and, in Apr. 2020, Virginia. [36]

Would making Election Day a federal holiday increase voter turnout and celebrate democracy? Or is it an optimistic idea that would exclude already disadvantaged voters while failing to increase turnout?

 

 

Should Election Day Be Made a National Holiday?

Pro 1

Making Election Day a national holiday will increase voter turnout by enabling more people to vote.

The US ranks 26th out of 32 for voter turnout among Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries. [8]

In the 2016 presidential election, 55.7% of the American voting-age population cast a ballot. By comparison, Belgium reported the highest OECD voter turnout: 87.2% in the most recent national election. Sweden came second with 82.6%. [8]

Among registered voters in the 2016 US presidential election, being “too busy” or having a conflicting schedule was the third-highest reason cited for not voting, accounting for 14% of registered voters who did not cast a vote (about 2.7 million people). [9]

Former Editor-in-Chief of the Northwestern University Law Review, Beau C. Tremitiere, JD, stated, “The demands of school and work schedules keep millions of Americans, especially those with children or long commutes, from ever getting to their polling stations… The ideal solution is simple: Congress should make Election Day a national holiday, or move Election Day to the weekend.” [10] A holiday would allow more citizens volunteer at polling places or drive the elderly to vote, and make a difference in states where long lines at the polls keep voters waiting for hours. [10][11]] Read More

Pro 2

Making Election Day a national holiday would turn voting into a celebration of democracy.

Election Day is a holiday in Puerto Rico. [26] Caravanas are joyful, noisy parades of cars festooned with flags and other decorations that stream through Puerto Rico’s streets ahead of an election and are credited with the island’s over 80% voter turnout. [14][35] In Australia, where voting is mandatory, elections are celebrated with parties and barbeques nationwide, resulting in turnout rates around 90%. [12]

The idea that “voting should be a celebration, not a chore” is one argument for turning Election Day into a national holiday, according to Archon Fung, PhD, and Jane Mansbridge, PhD, professors at the Harvard Kennedy School. They stated, “Citizen Day would do more than give our democracy the honor that it deserves; it would help our democracy work better. More people would vote if they had more time to cast their ballots… Furthermore, celebrating our democracy publicly would send the message that we value each other’s citizenship as much as we value honoring past presidents.” [13]

Donald Green, PhD, Burgess Professor of Political Science at Columbia University, found that nonpartisan community parties celebrating Election Day in 2005, 2006, and 2016 increased voter participation between 2.6 percentage points and about 4 percentage points. [14]

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Pro 3

Making weekday elections a national holiday is a popular idea that would align the US with other countries.

Pew Research Center found that 71% of Democrats and 59% of Republicans support making Election Day a federal holiday. [15] A survey showed that US adults would rather have a federal holiday on Election Day than on Christmas Eve, the Friday after Thanksgiving, or St. Patrick’s day. [16]

The United States is out of step with the rest of the world: elections are held on weekends in 27 of the 36 OECD countries. [15] Israel and South Korea make national elections a holiday to avoid economic hardship for voters. The result is voter turnout rates of 72.3% and 77.2% respectively, which is 26-32% higher than the United States. [8][15] A holiday for elections sidesteps the issue of a weekend election, which could conflict with religious obligations.

Elections are federal holidays in Singapore, which, when combined with mandatory voting, resulted in a voter turnout of 93.6% for the 2015 election of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. [17] Countries such as France, Mexico, and India also observe federal holidays for elections. [18][19]

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Con 1

Making Election Day a national holiday will disadvantage low-income and blue collar workers.

Federal law doesn’t require private employers to give employees paid federal holidays. [20][21][22] A part-time hourly worker is more likely to have multiple jobs, none of which are likely to offer time off for a national holiday. [23]

Annie McDonald, Editor of the Berkeley Public Policy Journal, noted that the workers who are least likely to get paid holidays are those who already have less of a voice in the political process: “Americans working in retail, hospitality, and service jobs, for example, would most likely not receive the benefit of a paid holiday to vote. In fact, these voters may be more likely to have to work as a result of a federal election holiday, where they may have had time off previously on a random Tuesday in November. Additionally, many of these individuals rely on school days as childcare for their children. An additional day off school would prove to be problematic for individuals who may not have other readily accessible forms of childcare.” [24]

People who have already suffered significant disenfranchisement, such as women and people of color, are more likely to be working those low-income jobs that wouldn’t get the time off to vote even on a national holiday. [24] Holidays usually mean more work hours for retail workers, because stores run promotions and sales. [25]

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Con 2

Changing state laws and individual companies’ policies would be more effective ways to help people vote.

According to the AFL-CIO, 30 states require employers to allow employees time off for voting. Arizona, for example, allows employees who do not have three consecutive hours before or after work when the polls are open to take paid time off to vote at the start or end of their work days. [26] Creating laws in all states that let people vote before or after work would be more effective than a national holiday, which would quickly be viewed as just another day off to enjoy. [27]

Companies including Abercrombie & Fitch Co., Farmers Insurance, Kaiser Permanente, Patagonia, and Walmart have joined Make Time to Vote campaign, which encourages employers to provide paid time off, schedule no meetings on Election Day, and give information on mail-in ballots and early voting. [28][29]

Patagonia, an outdoor clothing retailer, paused operation on Nov. 6, 2018 so that all employees could vote. Rose Marcario, CEO, stated, “demonstrating your company’s commitment to voting will reinforce how essential it is that every eligible voter shows up. And it will, in turn, help strengthen the idea that businesses can and will come together for a worthy common purpose: protecting our democracy by empowering all American workers to be good citizens.” [30]

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Con 3

Other solutions would more reliably increase voter turnout than a national holiday.

Solutions such as automatic voter registration, same-day registration, early voting, no-excuse absentee voting, restoring voting rights to former felons, improved civics education, and voter outreach would all improve voter participation more reliably than a national holiday. [31][32] Trying one of these alternatives would avoid the negative economic impact of closing businesses for Election Day. [33]

Henry Farber, PhD, Hughes-Rogers Professor of Economics at Princeton University, conducted an analysis of states that made Election Day a holiday for state employees. He concluded that “having an election holiday, by itself, is not an effective strategy to increase voter turnout.” [34]

Automatic voter registration, by contrast, could register an additional 22 million people and create 7.9 million new voters nationwide within a year. [31] Same-day registration boosts turnout by 5%, and universal implementation of it would have added as many as 4.8 million voters in the 2016 election, according to Danielle Root, JD, and Liz Kennedy, JD, from the Center for American Progress. [31]

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Discussion Questions – Things to Think About

 

  1. Should Election Day be a national holiday? Why or why not?
  2. If Election Day were a national holiday, how would you ensure hourly and low-income workers would get a chance to vote? Explain your answer.
  3. What other improvements could be made to voting and Election Day? Think of things such as voter ID laws, lowering the voting age, and abolishing the Electoral College. Explain your answers.

 

Footnotes:

  1. John M. Cunningham, “Why Are U.S. Elections Held on Tuesdays?,” britannica.com (accessed Sep. 30, 2019)
  2. Evan Andrews, “Election 1010: Why Do We Vote on a Tuesday in November?,” history.com, Aug. 31, 2018
  3. Grace Panetta and Olivia Reaney, “Today Is National Voter Registration Day. The Evolution of American Voting Rights in 242 Years Shows How Far We’ve Come — and How Far We Still Have to Go,” businessinsider.com, Sep. 24, 2019
  4. University of Houston Digital History, “Agriculture,” digitalhistory.uh.edu (accessed Sep. 24, 2019)
  5. USDA, “Ag and Food Sectors and the Economy,” ers.usda.gov, Sep. 20, 2019
  6. Legal Information Institute, “5 U.S. Code § 6103. Holidays,” law.cornell.edu (accessed Sep. 30, 2019)
  7. Matthew Haag, “Mitch McConnell Calls Push to Make Election Day a Holiday a Democratic ‘Power Grab’,” nytimes.com, Jan. 31, 2019
  8. Drew DeSilver, “U.S. Trails Most Developed Countries in Voter Turnout,” pewresearch.org, May 21, 2018
  9. Gustavo López and Antonio Flores, “Dislike of Candidates or Campaign Issues Was Most Common Reason for Not Voting in 2016,” pewresearch.org, June 1, 2017
  10. Beau C. Tremitiere, “Election Day Should Be a National Holiday,” cnbc.com, July 5, 2016
  11. York Dispatch Editorial Board, “Editorial: On Voting, GOP Takes a Holiday from its Senses,” yorkdispatch.com, Feb. 1, 2019
  12. Tacey Rychter, “How Compulsory Voting Works: Australians Explain,” nytimes.com, Nov. 5, 2018
  13. Archon Fung and Jane Mansbridge, “Let’s Vote, Party and Celebrate American Democracy on a New Holiday Called Citizen Day,” usatoday.com, Oct. 26, 2018
  14. Thomas MacMillan, “This Might Be the Best Idea for Turning out More Voters in U.S. Elections,” nymag.com, July 8, 2017
  15. Drew Desilver, “Weekday Elections Set the U.S. apart from Many Other Advanced Democracies,” pewresearch.org, Nov. 6, 2018
  16. Kathy Frankovic, “St. Patrick’s Day Not So Popular – Americans Would Rather Election Day a Holiday,” today.yougov.com, Mar. 14, 2019
  17. BBC, “Singapore Election: Governing Party Secure Decisive Win,” bbc.com, Sep. 12, 2015
  18. Holly Jackson, “It’s Time to Make Election Day a Holiday in Law and Spirit,” washingtonpost.com, Oct. 22, 2018
  19. BCP Associates, “India Elections 2019 – Declaration of Paid Holiday on Polling Day,” bcpassociates.com, Apr. 12, 2019
  20. Ceylan Pumphrey, “Do Businesses Have to Give Federal Holidays Like President’s Day Off?,” blogs.findlaw.com, Feb. 14, 2018
  21. Department of Labor, “Holiday Pay,” dol.gov (accessed Sep. 23, 2019)
  22. Peggy Emch, “Is Holiday Pay Required by Law?,” timesheets.com, 2013
  23. Fast Casual, “Study: Why Hourly Workers Forced to Work Multiple Jobs,” fastcasual.com, Apr. 20, 2018
  24. Annie McDonald, “Ensuring Access to Election Day for All,” bppj.berkely.edu, Nov. 6, 2018
  25. Suzanne Lucas, “No, Election Day Should Not Be a Federal Holiday,” inc.com, Oct. 24, 2016
  26. Kenneth Quinnell, “Know Your Rights: State Laws on Employee Time off to Vote,” aflicio.org, Nov. 5, 2016
  27. Osita Nwanevu, “Maybe Making Election Day a National Holiday Wouldn’t Really Work,” slate.com, Nov. 3, 2016
  28. Abigail Hess, “A Record 44% of US Employers Will Give Their Workers Paid Time off to Vote This Year,” cnbc.com, Oct. 31, 2018
  29. Make Time to Vote, homepage, maketimetovote.org (accessed Sep. 24, 2019)
  30. Rose Marcario, “Time to Vote,” patagonia.com, Sep. 24, 2018
  31. Danielle Root and Liz Kennedy, “Increasing Voter Participation in America,” americanprogress.org, July 11, 2018
  32. Kelly Born, “Increasing Voter Turnout: What, If Anything, Can Be Done?,” ssir.org, Apr. 25, 2016
  33. Chris Talgo, “Make Election Day a National Holiday? No: Too Inconvenient, Early-Voting Options Ample,” orlandosentinel.com, Nov. 5, 2018
  34. Henry Farber, “Increasing Voter Turnout: Is Democracy Day the Answer?,” princeton.edu, Feb. 2009
  35. Sarah Issenberg, “The Mystery of the Puerto Rico Voter,” slate.com, Jan. 27, 2012
  36. Paul LeBlanc, “Virginia Governor Makes Election Day a Holiday and Expands Early Voting,” cnn.com, Apr. 12, 2020