Opinion: Why voting day should be a national holiday

Nicholas Hunter

Nicholas Hunter

On Nov. 8, polls open for one of the most intensely polarizing and unusual elections in American history. Voters will choose who represents them in the White House and the U.S. Senate, as well as who the next mayor will be and which local issues get passed for their district.

The date for Election Day is decided to be the day after the first Monday in November. This odd method of selection comes from a decision made in 1845, in a time where agriculture was the main staple of our economy. Tuesday was the only day of the week that wouldn’t interfere with work or religion; however, today’s America is much different.

One of the biggest barriers for voters — specifically voters with low-income jobs — is missing work. Families where one, or both, parents are working lower-paying jobs simply cannot afford to miss out on even a couple hours’ pay, regardless of how much they are invested in the election. Even if they attempt to make it to the polls during lunch or immediately after work, long lines may mean they still won’t have time, or that polls will close before they can get there.

Some argue that this can be solved by casting an absentee ballot. While that is certainly a viable option, it can be a long process and oftentimes isn’t something people know is an option before it’s too late.

The solution to eliminate this is simple: Make voting days nationally paid holidays.

This can accomplish a number of things: It can aid the issue of low-income workers not being able to miss work, and it can highlight smaller elections that do not get as much attention in the media.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has been a big proponent of establishing voting day as a national holiday, and introduced a bill to the senate in 2015 to establish “Democracy Day” as a national holiday.

Doing so would not be a venture into unknown waters; countries such as France, Germany, Austria and New Zealand have all made their voting days national holidays, and they all see a higher voter turnout than the U.S.

As Sanders acknowledged on his site’s page about Democracy Day, taking this step “would not be a cure-all” to low voter turnout, but it can demonstrate the importance of voting to citizens who are skeptical of the value of their vote.

No matter who you support in this election, having as many voices as possible heard is key to a successful democracy. There should not be fixable barriers keeping anyone from getting to the polls.

Nicholas Hunter is a columnist, contact him at [email protected].