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Nurturing Democracy | The Case for Making Election Day a Federal Holiday

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

Last updated on February 15, 2022

Without a doubt, voting is fundamental to democracy, a mechanism for accountability, a civic duty, and the cornerstone of political engagement. At least, it is supposed to be.

Since the 2016 Presidential election’s results baffled many Americans, the subject of voter turnout has become more relevant. Although people were disappointed by voter turnout after Election Day, we have surprisingly been behind many countries in voting percentages.

The United States placed 26th out of 32 among countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) with 55.7%, according to Pew Research. For comparison, Belgium reported the highest turnout with 87.2%, and Sweden with the second-highest with 82.6%. How can America pride itself on being the best democracy in the world when little more than half of the eligible voters are participating in its function?

To help solve this underwhelming voter turnout, many experts believe in a proposal to make Election Day a federal holiday.

The best argument for declaring elections as national holidays is allowing more people to go to the polls to cast their votes. While simple and obvious, this approach can help solve issues with voter turnout.

Conductors of another Pew study polled registered voters from the 2016 election and discovered that around 14% of people cited “being too busy” as the reason they did not cast a ballot. 14% is 2.7 million uncasted votes that could be solved by designating Election Day as a federal holiday.

“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,” said Beau C. Tremitiere, former editor-in-chief of the Northwestern University Law Review. Not only would this allow for more people to go to the polls, but it would also encourage more people to volunteer at the increased number of polling sites. With more polling sites, more participation is possible as there would be increased accessibility in addition to shorter lines.

The United States is lagging behind many countries, establishing elections as holidays. South Korea establishes Election Day as a federal holiday and witnesses 77.2% voter turnout. Israel has the same holiday and has a 72.3% voter turnout rate.

Establishing Election Day as a holiday will shift the public attitude towards voting. Instead of a chore, voting will be a celebration. For evidence, look towards Puerto Rico. Election Day commences communal events, the streets fill with parades, and people recognizing their right to vote is powerful. Many Pew experts believe that this contributes to the 80% voter turnout in Puerto Rico. By pushing for this plan, America will reaffirm the narrative about voting and move towards a more true and functioning democracy.

While others might propose alternative methods to aid in voter turnout, they hold arguably more distinct flaws than this proposal. Some argue to move Election Day from the usual Tuesday to a weekend.

However, for workers, especially hourly employees, the weekends are also valuable times to earn income for their families. As a result, they will be understandably less inclined to take time off to vote. Others may also argue that the best course of action would be to create legislation for private companies to offer their employees opportunities to vote.

Yet, passing this legislation will be incredibly difficult as major corporations will resist profusely. Having the government lead by example in letting federal workers take the day to cast their ballot will most likely encourage corporations to allow for the same.

Democracy can be tedious and slow, which is by design. However, regardless of political viewpoints, America as a collective can agree that it’s the best system of government. But to nurture American democracy requires much better voting participation than what has have observed in previous years. Passing legislation to establish elections as holidays would be a leap for the country’s health and democracy as a whole.

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