By the time you read this, polls will be open in most of the country. In some places, they’ve been open for more than a week. The range and variability of deadlines, eligibility for different kinds of ballots, opening hours, and ID requirements has caused confusion in several states. In Florida, where some voters have waited for hours to cast early ballots, they’ve already been the subject of a lawsuit.
Democratic reformers have a solution to what they regard as a Republican plot to suppress turnout: uniform national standards for voting. Andrew Cohen argues in The Atlantic that “Congress ought to pass a ‘Voters’ Rights Act,’ which guarantees a mail-in option and ensures significant early-voting hours for 10 days before a federal election. That would give working people — you know, the real “middle class” — four full days over two weekends to cast their ballot.”
Such a law would probably be unconstitutional. As Cohen acknowledges, the Constitution reserves the power to organize elections to the states. Nevertheless, he has a point. Voting is more difficult than it should be for many working people. And the range and variability of early voting and absentee options are unnecessarily confusing, quite apart from any intentional efforts to reduce turnout. The question is whether an unconstitutional, centralizing proposal is the best way to deal with these problems.
I don’t think it is. Here’s my simpler and unambiguously constitutional proposal: make the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November a federal holiday. Most of the practical obstacles to voting are rooted in the fact that Tuesdays are workdays. If more citizens had the day off, they’d have less need of absentee ballots, early voting, extended poll hours, and the rest of the mess.
Declaring Election Day a federal holiday wouldn’t force private employers to close for the day. I suspect that many would, however, particularly if Election Day replaced one of the holidays already on the calendar. It won’t be easy to decide which of the existing federal holidays should get the boot. But take a look at the list: do we really need them all?
The benefits of making Election Day a holiday go beyond access. Doing so would also provide an opportunity for demonstrations, celebrations, protests, and encounters with our neighbors. In the 18th century, elections were the occasion for speeches, feasts, games, and, occasionally, drunken riots. We wouldn’t want to bring back the riots. Yet there’s no reason that the rest shouldn’t become part our public culture again. Independence Day is wonderful. But I’d rather see marching bands leading the way to the polls than to the fireworks.
I have no hope that this will happen any time soon. So I’ll get up at the crack of dawn and wait on line for a while before beginning my morning commute. My fellow Americans, we deserve better. However you plan to vote, whether you plan to vote or not, Happy Election Day!