April 13, 2004

Why isn't Election Day a national holiday?

It seems like it should be fairly straight forward. Celebrating Election Day with a national holiday is fundamental to celebrating democracy. As it stands, the law establishing federal holidays has been amended several times to create new holidays. Why do we celebrate our independence, our presidents and our flag, but not our democracy?

Election Day falls on the first tuesday after the first monday in November, basically the tuesday from November 2nd through the 9th. This is actually a pretty crowded time for holidays, Veteran's Day is November 11th and Thanksgiving is usually 16 days after election day. What I would like to see happen is moving Veteran's Day to Election Day, to celebrate the men and women who protect our democracy as well as the central tenet of that democracy.

By giving people the day off we would be making it easier for people who have less free time between work and family life to contribute to democracy. We would also be sending a national message that choosing our government is important enough to take some time off.

I'm certainly not the first person to have this idea, but its time has come. The Atlantic covered this in a story in 1998. Still, we install democracies all over the world, yet we have one of the lowest voter turnouts in the world.

Of course there are still some questions to answer. Do you have the party annually or bi-annually, when congress is elected? The Atlantic article suggests that Election Day be moved to a Saturday, but I don't like that because it doesn't have the same celebration for Democracy that creating a holiday does. And by combining it with Veteran's Day, there's not a net increase in holidays, which means no additional cost to taxpayers.

If you think that this is something worth doing, please spread the word. Spread it on your weblog, spread it to your friends and family and coworkers. Spread it to your government. I think this is an idea whose time has come.

On a related note, something I personally will be doing is having an Election Day party, where entry will hinge on having an "I voted" sticker. I can think of few better reasons to have a party than to celebrate democracy.

[Update: Eric posted some more information including information on Bill S.726 which aims to do just what this post suggests.

Goodspeed Update is also looking at this, which will hopefully encourage Ann Arborites to contact Senator Stabenow.]

Posted by george at April 13, 2004 01:50 AM
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While i agree with the idea of having a national holiday every time there is a national election for executive or legislative branches. I must chime in and say that i think this will never happen. I personally believe it is a very good idea, but neither main party in our democracy shares my view.

Quite simply, the republicans and democrats have no vested interest in getting more people to vote. Our election system does not require a majority of registered voters to vote in order to validate the election. Since there is no minimal number to hit to ensure the election will be valid, the goal has become to develop the smallest, most predictable voting base possible.

Both parties are actively courting smaller and more committed groups all the time; the reason is these impassioned groups tend to vote more regularly and more consistently. This makes the process of planning and winning an election much easier then actually trying to appeal to a larger, unfocused populous.

They key is to get enough issue based groups together in order to win, the less people that vote the better, since the votes you can predict become even more effective in a smaller turnout. Look at who the parties have been targeting over the last few years and you will see this pattern.

It may sound counter intuitive, but remember all the parties care about at the most basic level is winning the election, you canít do anything when you are out of power. My estimation is that the parties will continue to push the voter turnout lower and lower.

Having an election holiday would screw up a fairly predictable election scheme, with a lot of unwanted variability.

Posted by: Christopher Watts at April 13, 2004 03:38 PM

I'm Stephen McKenna, and I approve of this message.

Changing voting day to a Saturday will not solve the problem, because some people work on Saturdays. And even if voting day was a holiday, it would be impossible to legislate the equal opportunity for all citizens to be free from work for a full day to vote, because there are critical systems like hospitals, energy, and military that cannot be put on hold for an entire day.

In response to Chris's comment, I will say that the Democrats have a very strong desire to increase voter turnout, especially among lower class and minority populations. A voting holiday would reward their populist message.

Posted by: Stephen McKenna at April 13, 2004 04:20 PM

Is anyone thinking about the trees?

It doesn't sound like it.

Having yet another holiday means that we will adopt some sort of symbol that people will forget it's significance, most likely hack it down from its natural habitat, garnish it in chads, and toss it out in the summer.

Posted by: davidissimo at April 13, 2004 04:43 PM

Stephen, admittedly neither the first tuesday or the saturday Election Day is a 100% solution but it's a lot better than the current situation. Just like with other holidays we don't legislate a day of rest for everyone, we simply give our federal employees the day off and encourage other institutions to follow suit. It also sends a strong message that democracy should be celebrated.

Posted by: George Hotelling at April 13, 2004 04:47 PM

David-- George proposes moving Veteran's Day to Election Day. It wouldn't guarantee that the holiday retains meaning indefinitely, but it would be a step in the direction of getting people out to vote. It's sort of like the "I Voted" sticker -- it isn't going to convince everyone to vote, but the perceived solidarity in taking part in civic duty can only help, not hurt, the cause.

Posted by: Eric Goldberg at April 13, 2004 05:05 PM

Eric, I just figure David could use his Festivus metal pole, which is completely recyclable. And if he wants, he could even conclude Election Day with the feats of strength!

Posted by: George Hotelling at April 13, 2004 05:08 PM

Random brain dump - in Australia, elections are COMPULSORY. That's right, it is illegal NOT to vote. Thus, many wacky write in candidates, IIRC.

In the US, you get the day off if you are UAW. And most of them use it to go hunting, run errands, etc rather than voting...

Posted by: Sean K at April 18, 2004 12:17 AM

I'd heard about mandatory elections in .au but that seems like a bad idea to me. Besides, freedom of choice should include abstinance.

I think that the UAW deal would be interesting data to influence the decision. I suspect that while many of them use the day off to their advantage, the UAW voter turnout is higher than other unions with similar demographics.

Posted by: George Hotelling at April 18, 2004 11:03 AM

I wish I could find a supporting URL, but, IIRC, ex-Michigan governor John Engler's press flacks used the UAW-off-day as an excuse for the inability of their boss to "deliver Michigan" to Bush in 2000 as promised, and even suggested that it was unfair to Republicans.

Posted by: Dave Walker at April 18, 2004 05:46 PM

http://www.commondreams.org/views/110900-102.htm - "In Michigan the Republican Governor was incensed that the UAW had negotiated a day off on election day, especially since it undoubtedly led to the upset of the incumbent Republican Senator from Michigan."

I don't think this is a partisan issue though. I would assume that Republicans would be just as eager as Democrats to promote democracy.

Posted by: George Hotelling at April 20, 2004 03:12 PM

Thank you for your efforts in getting the word out on this all-important piece of legislation. I was at a dinner party last night where half the guests were conservative and the other half liberal and the only thing everyone could agree on was the fact that election day should be a national holiday. More work should be done to inject this issue into debates around the country. I would like candidates to be asked where they stand on this issue and then be held accountable when and if this legislation's fate is determined. Instead of VOTE t-shirts being worn by celebrities they should be wearing t-shirts that list this legislation's number descriptin and purpose. Do you know of a non-profit organization that is attempting to get behind this goal?

Posted by: Carlos at July 6, 2004 04:17 PM

SCR15

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