Tuesday, Nov. 4 is Election Day in the United States, and on that morning, millions of Americans will wake up and do something disgustingly unpatriotic: They will go to work and school.
Rather than get a day off to make one of the most important decisions of their lives, the majority of voters will be forced to juggle jobs and personal lives while still trying to reach the polls.
To ease this burden on voters, and to spur higher turnout, the federal government should make Election Day a national holiday. Since 1980, the average turnout for a U.S. Presidential election has been about 52 percent of the voting-age population (That number dips to 38 percent for mid-term elections). In comparison, the United States ranks 139th of 172 countries in voter turnout since 1945.
In the recent past, Michigan legislators have championed this cause. In 2005, U.S. Rep. John Conyers proposed House Resolution 63, the Democracy Day Act of 2005. The bill advocated that Election Day – the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November of every even-numbered year — be named a public holiday. Soon after, Sen. Debbie Stabenow (Mich.) proposed a companion resolution – co-sponsored by fellow Michigander Carl Levin – in the Senate.
The hope wasn’t that a nationally recognized Democracy Day would provide lazy voters a day off from work, but that it would raise voter turnout. The holiday would give people time off from work or school, during which they could vote or help staff polling places, while raising awareness of the national election.
By the end of 2005, House Resolution 63 had 107 co-sponsors, and three more soon signed on. Still, no major action has been taken on the bill. In addition, the Senate resolution has been sitting quietly in the Committee on the Judiciary for years. Both pieces of legislation were proposed under the previous Congress and would, thus, have to be re-proposed in order to be considered under the current Congress. Despite having the proposed legislation for more than three years, Congress was unable to move on it before the next Presidential election.
And even if our national government hasn’t bought the idea of the holiday yet, some of the states have. In fact, nine U.S. states name Election Day as a legal holiday. In addition, 31 states have some form of legislation that forces employers to allow workers time off in order to cast a ballot.
So although we won’t be seeing a national Democracy Day this year, it is something that we, as a nation, need to consider as soon as possible. Because when that Tuesday in November finally rolls around, only one thing should be on American minds: voting.