Elections in most countries are held on a weekend. Why? Because people don’t have to worry about how to make it to the polls after work or on their lunch break. Because it makes it more convenient for voters. And thus, it makes it more likely that more people will get off their arses and vote! The United States is one of the few exceptions, where elections are held on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. Out of 68 nations that hold regular elections, the only ones that do not hold them on weekends are Canada, Denmark, Ireland, Israel, the Netherlands, Norway, the Philippines, South Korea, and the United States. Some of the countries that hold weekday elections declare election day a public holiday, others permit across-the-board absentee ballots or postal votes.
The voting date in the U.S. makes it harder for poor people and minorities to vote, thus concentrating the vote and expanding the impact of the upper class, the wealthy voters, the WASPS. In addition, we’ve made it harder for those people by closing many polling places in poorer neighborhoods, thus requiring some to make a trip by bus. Add to that the restrictive voter ID laws that exist in some states and, well, what we end up with is the majority of the voters being middle or upper income and white.
US voter turnout trails most developed countries. During the 2016 presidential election, less than 56% of the estimated voting-age population in the US voted. While the majority of US states have voter leave laws that guarantee certain employees a modicum of time off to vote, no federal law currently mandates that employees get time off to cast their ballots. So, when faced with choices like having to take unpaid time off work to vote, waking at the wee hours of the morning to vote so that they’re not late to work, standing in hours-long lines with everyone else who waited until after the workday to cast their ballot, or simply not voting at all, many choose the latter. Of the nonvoters surveyed by the US Census Bureau about the 2008 presidential election, the 2012 presidential election, and numerous other elections, the most commonly cited reason for not voting was being too busy or having conflicting work schedules. Obviously, we need to make some changes.
This month, House democrats introduced a bill known as the For The People Act, or HR1. It is a 571-page compendium of existing problems and proposed solutions in four political hot zones: voting, political money, redistricting, and ethics. Obviously, I cannot address the entire bill in this post, but one portion of the bill calls for election day to be made a federal holiday in order to make it easier for everyone to vote. Because of the large number of issues covered by HR1, it is highly unlikely that it will become law any time soon, for it would need to pass the Senate and be signed into law by Trump. The #2 Fool on the Hill, Mitch McConnell, has already mocked and criticized the idea, saying “Just what we need, another paid holiday for federal workers”. And how many days off do you take, Mitchie??? And then this …
“So, this is the Democrats’ plan to ‘restore democracy. A political power grab that’s smelling more and more like what it is.”
A “power grab” to ensure that everyone has a chance to vote? I think not. I think it’s called “democracy”, Mitchell. Last September, Senator Bernie Sanders proposed a bill in the Senate, S.3498, titled The Democracy Day Act of 2018, that would have declared election day to be a federal holiday.
“Election Day should be a national holiday so that everyone has the time and opportunity to vote. While this would not be a cure-all, it would indicate a national commitment to create a more vibrant democracy.”
Needless to say, Sanders’ bill was DOA in the republican-controlled Senate led by Mitch McConnell.
Other points in HR1 pertaining to voting:
- Voter registration would be made easier. Citizens could register online or get registered automatically, via data from driver’s licenses or other government sources. For federal elections, states would have to provide same-day registration and at least 15 days of early voting. Election Day would be a federal holiday.
The bill would crack down on efforts to take voters off the rolls or prevent them from casting ballots. Felons could regain their voting rights after finishing their sentences.
Federal elections would require paper ballots to prevent computer tampering. State chief election officials couldn’t get involved in federal campaigns.
The bill would declare an intent to revive core anti-discrimination provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that were effectively shut down by the Supreme Court six years ago. It would also state that failing to vote isn’t grounds for taking away a person’s voter registration.
There is much more of substance in this bill that I cannot cover in a single post, but NPR has a highly informative, easy-to-understand article covering the highlights that I suggest you take a look at. Campaign finance, ethics, and gerrymandering are also covered, all of which sorely need to be addressed if we are to have a chance at fair elections. Sadly, as I noted before, I don’t think the bill has a snowball’s chance of passing the Senate, for the reality is that if every eligible voter had cast a vote in 2016, we would be writing today about President Hillary Clinton, and McConnell and his band of merry thugs are well aware of it. Mitch and his cronies are well aware that those disenfranchised voters would put an end to this picnic they’ve been having and hold them accountable for their responsibility to ALL the people of this nation, not only those who hold the nation’s wealth in their dirty hands.