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Give Us the Day Off!

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 [3].

Democratic reformers have a solution to what they regard as a Republican plot to suppress turnout: uniform national standards for voting. Andrew Cohen argues [4] 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 [5]: 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!

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Comments Disabled To "Give Us the Day Off!"

#1 Comment By Dan Davis On November 6, 2012 @ 7:59 am

The Supremes could just call a national voting rights act “interstate commerce”, and that would be that.

#2 Comment By Chad On November 6, 2012 @ 10:01 am

Except I don’t think this really addresses the root issue of working class people being able to vote, millions of people work during federal holidays and they almost exclusively work in the service industry which houses the very same working class targeted by your solution. This would lead to people in higher paying jobs getting a day off to vote while poorer citizens are serving them throughout the day.

#3 Comment By mikev On November 6, 2012 @ 11:04 am

Yes! Totally agree, although I would make the Friday of the first full week of November election day. And obviously we should get rid of Columbus day.

#4 Comment By Nahidul Islam On November 6, 2012 @ 11:57 am

Just released NYU study of President Obama and Mitt Romney’s body language shows on a word by word basis what each candidate emphasizes. [6]

be sure to click on the more info tab and read the information just so you have seen it.

#5 Comment By Chad On November 6, 2012 @ 12:35 pm

This wouldn’t really be much help for the working class. Do you think Wal-Mart would actually close for Election Day?

#6 Comment By William Dalton On November 6, 2012 @ 2:01 pm

Voting in this country has never been easier, and thusly, probably never more susceptible to voter fraud. More than a decade ago there was no “early voting”, other than the traditional absentee ballot, which required a sworn statement before a notary that you would not be in your home county on election day. A “federal holiday” on election day would increase, marginally, the influence of Federal employees, but others will be going in to work the same as they do on Columbus Day, Veterans Day or Martin Luther King Day. Working people have always found time in the day to vote outside their work schedule, as they have to go to the bank, do their shopping, get their driver’s licensed renewed, etc.

The real problem with American elections is that the political pros, in government and media, have convinced the American people that we have “national” elections and that we should both celebrate and feel obliged to vote in them. This was never the design of the founders. People were accorded the right to live in a society in which the government was obliged to work within the restrictions of the law, each state required to maintain a “republican” form of government. People voted in elections for state and local office holders, judges, and legislators, but most states reserved one house of their legislature to be selected by a pool of property owners only – those who would actually be paying the bulk of taxes that would fund the government of each state. Every citizen of a state and the country was entitled to vote in a contest for one member of Congress, but Senators were elected by their state’s legislators, and Presidential electors were selected by a means approved by those same legislators. Those electors, in turn, were to choose the President of the United States, an office to be removed from public plebiscite as much as was possible.

The nation’s founders knew that if the President, or even more than one house of the Congress, could achieve office by receiving a direct mandate from the people, the sovereign states and their governments would be shoved aside in short order. And indeed they have. Soon to follow would be the liberty of the people, because, unlike the governments of the several states, the Federal government need never fear the repudiation of their actions by those whose votes could be cast by their feet moving to another jurisdiction. (Today, Congress has devised ways to maintain its control even of Americans who move outside its borders.)

The best way to encourage Americans to take charge of their lives and, in turn, actually become more civic minded and take charge of the lives of their communities, is to make them give up the pretense that there are “national elections” over which they have any control and which have any more consequence than to decide who will be the recipients of the bulk of their taxes. The importance of voting for anything outside our state and local governments should be minimized, not trumpeted, by our opinion makers, because, until this system is brought down, the importance of such voting will, in fact, be minimal.

#7 Comment By Andre Friedmann On November 6, 2012 @ 5:08 pm

In the early 1970s I was a young high school dropout and a bundle boy in a garment factory. My union, the ILGWU, had negotiated a half-day paid holiday for election day every other November in its industry-wide contract. The ILGWU did this decades before I was born, giving workers greater opportunity to vote.
I think it comical that any self-described conservative should advocate for anything remotely like this unless, of course, it would better enfranchise the wealthy at the expense of the poor. Capital’s interests are best served by having federal holidays for bread and circuses, not citizenship.