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Could a Voting Holiday Increase Turnout?

By Rachel Alper

Democracy depends on voting. When Congress chose the first Tuesday in November as Election Day, it picked the day with the intention of having as little interference with people’s workdays as possible to allow for the most accessible possible voting process.

During that time period, the United States (US) economy was based in farming and agriculture. Tuesday was chosen for general election so that it wouldn’t interfere with market day, which was Wednesday in most places. Congress also didn’t want to choose a day on the weekend that would conflict with religious practices.

Today, voting should be as easy and accessible as it was back in 1845; but that will require some changes.

More than a century and a half later, most people’s work schedules have changed drastically from the farming structure, but Election Day has not. Now, people have to squeeze in time to vote between school and work, if they are able to find time to vote at all. Making Election Day a national holiday is an important step towards making voting easier and showing that we value our own democracy.

House Democrats are trying to give federal workers the day off on Election Day as part of their sweeping anti-corruption bill, but the bill is unlikely to make it through Congress. One of the concerns is the economic impact of having another paid holiday. A simple solution would be to replace an existing holiday — like Columbus Day — with election day, or moving an existing holiday — like Presidents Day — to Election Day.

While the US Congress disagrees over the idea, California’s progressive legislature does have the chance to turn Election Day into a state holiday. A bill recently introduced in the Assembly that could give state workers the day off on November General Election days.

Making Election Day a holiday wouldn’t just allow more people to vote; it would send a national message that voting is important, and that voting is something that should be prioritized. It would send a message that democracy is something that requires participation. Most importantly, it would send a message that the government wants people to vote because they understand that democracy can only exist if they do so.

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