- Getty / Joe Raedle
- In the US, Election Day is not a national holiday. But some think it should be.
- 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.
- It would take an act of Congress to make Election Day a national holiday, and there is currently a bill proposing to designate “Democracy Day” as a national election holiday before a special committee.
Election Day isn’t a national holiday in the US, but some people think it should be.
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.
According to Pew Research data, US voter turnout trails most developed countries. While countries like Belgium, Sweden, and Turkey saw more than 80% of their estimated voting-age population cast votes in recent elections, less than 56% of the estimated voting-age population in the US voted during the 2016 presidential election.
Some countries, including Belgium and Turkey, see such high voter turnout mainly because of their compulsory voting laws. But while experts say such a scheme is unlikely to fly in the US, making it easier for people to vote would appear to be a step in the right direction.
The founding fathers at first only granted white, male property owners the right to vote, so the expansion of voting rights has taken some time.
To make Election Day a national holiday, it would take an act of Congress, and so far, no bills proposing such action have passed.
“Election Day should be a national holiday so that everyone has the time and opportunity to vote,” Sanders’ website reads. “While this would not be a cure-all, it would indicate a national commitment to create a more vibrant democracy.”
In an interview with President Barack Obama in 2016, Dan Corey, editor-in-chief of Rutgers University’s official student newspaper, The Daily Targum, asked Obama about what could be done to reverse the US’s low voter turnout:
The Daily Targum: “You have pointed out many times that voter turnout in the United States is very low, especially compared to other developed nations. But in many other countries, the government automatically registers voters and holds elections on days that are weekend days or national holidays. Do you think it’s time for the US to follow their lead?”
Obama: “Absolutely. We are the only advanced democracy that makes it deliberately difficult for people to vote.”
Others, however, are skeptical that creating a national holiday would increase voter turnout. As Osita Nwanevu wrote for Slate, “Low turnout is a complicated problem, and some of the more obvious-seeming remedies haven’t really worked… There’s nothing that would stop voters here from treating a Democracy Day like just another day off.”