Monday, October 27, 2008

Another Call for Saturday Elections

A few days ago, I pondered the questions of why Election Day was on a Tuesday and what was keeping it from being moved to a weekend. In a single op-ed column in this morning's paper, I got answers to both...
  • Why is it on a Tuesday? According to Steven Israel, a New York Congressman, and Norman Ornstein, co-founder of Why Tuesday? (a nonpartisan group that seeks to increase voter participation), it has its roots in our agrarian past:
    [I]n the United States, for more than 150 years, we've voted on Tuesday. Why? It's not in the Constitution. It isn't to avoid holidays. And it's not because people hate Mondays.

    The reason makes perfect sense – at least it did in 1845. In early agrarian American society, Saturday was for farming, Sunday was the Lord's day, Monday was required for travel to the county seat where the polling places were, Tuesday you voted, Wednesday you returned home, and Thursday it was back to work.

    It's a safe bet that today most Americans don't follow the same schedule as our farming forefathers. In fact, for many, Tuesday is one of the most inconvenient days to hold an election. One in four people who didn't vote in 2006 said that they were "too busy" or had "conflicting work or school schedules."
    That makes sense to me. As I said in the earlier post, I took advantage of early voting last Friday just to ensure that I didn't end up running out of time on Election Day, but I'm aware that lots of people don't even have that luxury.

  • But most of us aren't farmers now. What's keeping it from changing? Well, I guess the easiest answer would be "tradition." But that could very well change soon:
    Legislation now before Congress would finally tailor our voting system to modern American life by establishing weekend voting for national elections. (Steve Israel is sponsoring the bill in the House.) The presidential election would be held on the Saturday and Sunday after the first Friday in November, while for those who aren't often home on the weekends, there would be a few days of early voting.

    Our current system penalizes single parents, people working two jobs, and those who have to choose between getting a paycheck and casting a ballot. Two weekend days of voting means those working families would have a greater chance of making it to the polls. It means easing the long lines during rush hour at the polling sites. It means more locations, more poll workers and more voters.
    Seems like a good idea to me. I'm not 100% sold on the Saturday and Sunday idea (it seems to me like it could all get done on a Saturday alone, and having the returns come in on a non-school/work night would spare a lot of people a groggy morning the next day), but moving it to the weekend would certainly be a good idea--that, or, as I said earlier, making Election Day a new Monday holiday.
Israel and Ornstein also point out that, no matter how high a turnout we have this year, the U.S. is still in the middle of the pack in that area, behind Iceland, New Zealand and Sweden--all of whom have their elections on the weekend.

So can this change really happen? The authors think so:
Making a change like this won't be easy, but it's not unprecedented. In 1968, Congress passed the Monday Holiday law, which moved Memorial Day, Columbus Day, Veterans Day and Washington's Birthday from their original dates to Mondays. If we can alter our federal holidays to benefit shoppers and travelers, surely we can change Election Day for the benefit of our voters.
I hope this works; it certainly wouldn't hurt to try it.

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