Unless you are completely removed from the American political storm, you are aware that we are in the midst of yet another U.S. presidential election cycle. The arduous and often over-drawn process to elect a new (or preserve the old) leader comes to a chaotic close one day in November; yielding the champion “chosen” by the people. Electoral college debate aside, the American presidential election is one that prides itself on the authority of the individual vote and interest–all facets of a sound democracy. These elections depend on citizen involvement. Yet underneath the democratic facade, there lies a persistent issue in the U.S. that aids in diminishing collective voter importance: people can’t get to the polls.
If you take a look at the voter turnout statistics from recent major elections, it’s evident that not all registered voters exercised their right. About 61% of registered voters participated in the 2016 election, and only 47% in the 2018 midterm elections according to U.S. Census data. As steep as these numbers may seem, there still remains a sizable amount of registered citizens not voting. What gives for the discrepancy? Is voting not cool enough? What is keeping people from the polls?
Amongst barriers such as legal obstacles and general apathy for the voting system, it appears that one of the main reasons people are not showing up to the polls is that because their job prevents them from doing so. Many Americans are unable to reach their local polling places because they are unable to sacrifice time off from work for voting. Not only are they bound by the regulations of their employers, but long commutes, lack of childcare, and overall busy schedules contribute heavily to the inability to get to the polls. Among registered voters in the 2016 election, being “too busy” or having a conflicting schedule was the third-highest reason cited for not voting, accounting for an absence of about 2.7 million of registered voters, according to Pew Research Center. People are busy! I get it, you get it, many Democratic politicians like Bernie Sanders, Nancy Pelosi, and even former President John Tyler get it! Voting is crucial to our democratic system and that’s why we should make our voting day an American national holiday.
Even though we already have a designated first Tuesday in November, a bill passed to make it a national holiday (like the one proposed by House Democrats in January of 2019) would enhance its importance in our society and aid in raising voter turnout. If passed and signed into law, this would allow two million people who work for the federal government a paid-day off. Even more so, private companies are more likely to follow in the government’s footsteps, opening up the opportunity to other workers. Although this would not be a guaranteed solution under federal law for many private employees–especially blue collar workers– it poses a very strong possibility. If coupled with other aiding factors such as same-day registration, early voting, rides to the polls, and restoration of voting rights to former felons, the U.S. would see a much higher voter turnout. We would also join in with countries such as Singapore, Mexico, France, and India–just a few of many that observe voting holidays.
In addition to opening up schedules for many workers, making voting day a national holiday would help make voting a celebration of our right, not a chore. It would allow citizens to take more pride in and give more effort to elections. By making voting day a national holiday, we can not only value the individual citizen, but also their voice in the democratic process. It is our duty as members of the community to value each others’ rights and allow them access to exercise them. If we boast about voting and how important it is, then we should make it accessible to everyone–voting isn’t just for those who can fit it into their schedules, but should be possible for all citizens.