Should Election Day Be A Federal Holiday?

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By Reed Anfinson
Publisher, Swift County Monitor-News

“Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education.”

President Franklin D. Roosevelt

There is a national movement to make Election Day in America a national holiday. It isn’t a new movement, but it is getting new attention today. It has been proposed in Congress at least three previous times - 2001, 2002 and 2005 – with nothing coming of it.

U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York, is changing that. She is the young woman who defeated long-time, powerful incumbent Democrat Rep. Joseph Crowley in a primary election last year and went on to win a seat in Congress. She supports making Election Day and taking away Columbus Day so as not to increase the number of federal holidays on the books.

Ocasio-Cortez, 28, because of her connection to young people, and her outspoken stands, has become a popular figure on the left and with the media.

Now a Minnesota member of Congress has joined the movement. Democratic 3rd District U.S. Rep. Dean Phillips announced he will co-sponsor a bill to make Election Day a federal holiday.

“Establishing it as a federal holiday would ensure that more Americans have the time they need to vote,” Phillips said in the statement. “Fears about loss of wages or employment should not be a barrier to voting.”

The Election Day Holiday Act, Phillips said in a statement, would provide voters the necessary time on “the most important day of the year to our democracy” to cast their ballots.

A slim majority of Americans support making Election Day a national holiday, but the level of support depends on who you talk to on the subject. A new American Barometer survey shows that 54 percent of Americans support the idea, however that number is boosted by the 63 percent of Democrats who like the idea and drawn down by the 48 percent of Republicans who don’t. Independents are 50-50 on the idea.

Turning Election Day into a nation holiday and a day off from work, celebrating it, and making it an inspiring day to participate in our representative democracy could reinvigorate turnout at the polls, supporters say.

A larger percentage of voters turned out for the 2018 non-presidential year elections than have in more than 100 years. Sounds impressive until you hear the numbers – just under 50 percent. However, it was big improvement from the 36.7 percent who turned out in 2014. Turnout in a presidential year is always higher. In 2016, 60.1 percent of Americans voted.

Americans have about the worst voter turnout among developed countries in the world with democratically elected governments.  Those who support the idea of a national holiday for Election Day hope to change that. However, there are some realities they will have to face is they continue to push for their new holiday.

First, federal holidays tend to free government workers, those working at lending institutions, and employees of large corporations while the vast majority of American workers still head to work.

Second, for many who don’t vote the issue isn’t time; its interest. They’ve checked out.

It is the same as the choice to go home at night, turn on the TV, and seek the escape to a game show, Game of Thrones, or an NCIS episode rather than watching the news. They have no interest in informing themselves about what is happening in the world, Washington, D.C., or at the Minnesota Capitol in St. Paul. They have no interest in their city council, school board or county board.

These days the choice selected over watching, or reading, about the news is also going to Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, texting friends, shopping on Amazon, or diving into a million other websites.

Citizens are disillusioned with their elected leaders, the governing process, and the news media that tell them the stories of politics and politicians. After watching the longest government shutdown in history play out this past month, their cynicism has only deepened.

Third, life’s just too busy to be bothered with voting. There are too many things going on with kids, the job, and friends.

Fourth, for some voting is just too much of a hassle. The polling place is a long ways away, the lines are long, and they don’t know how to register.

Finally, some states intentionally make it difficult for citizens to vote. Without question, based on examples from around the country, Republican-controlled states implement onerous rules and regulations that make it a challenge to vote, especially for minorities. They claim fears of voter fraud though it happens only rarely. They would disenfranchise ten thousand voters to prevent one case of fraud.  

Our concern with the push to get a lot of people voting is what knowledge they bring to the ballot box. “Half of the American people have never read a newspaper. Half never voted for President. One hopes it is the same half,” playwright and author Gore Vidal observed.

Voters ignorant of the issues and what politicians stand for behind their public facades when running for office are easily duped. Citizens can vote against their own self-interest through the persuasive and emotion manipulating ads political parties and candidates run.

If we are to strive to get more people to the polls we have to do a much better job of educating citizens, seeking their engagement in government rather than accepting their willing and passive ignorance. That job falls to our schools, our local governments, and most importantly it rests with individually responsibility.

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