By Mia Speier ‘18
Long gone are our agrarian days. Farmers once traveled by horse to get to the polls. It took an entire day to get to the county seat in order to vote and a day to return. However, during these days, you couldn’t travel on the Sabbath –Friday through Sunday– so in 1845, Congress settled on Tuesday as Election Day for presidential elections. This day was made official in 1875 for the House of Representative elections and in 1919 for Senate elections.
I’ve only ridden a horse once in my life and I contest that my dad’s Prius can get us to the polls in under a day… or maybe under 15 minutes. The point being that we are no longer a society where the majority of us are famers. There are voting polls within a few blocks of every street, whether they be in someone’s garage, a temple, or a library. So why is it that we still vote on a Tuesday?
American voter turnout ranks near the bottom of all countries—138th out of 172 nations. In the 2014 midterm election, only 36 percent of eligible voters turned out to vote. As one of the greatest leading democracies in the world, it is a shame that such rampant voter suppression exists. In a nation that relies on the political participation of the public, it seems paradoxical that we discourage the public from voting due to the very day this voting is supposed to take place on: Tuesday.
In our fast paced, urban society, most citizens have long commutes to work and/or have to take care of their kids. It seems a burden to have to stand in line at the polls and in some cases, have to wait upwards 3 hours or so. There is a very apparent problem when exercising your right to vote is longer than waiting in line at Disneyland. In fact, data over the last decade clearly indicates that the inconvenience of voting is the primary reason Americans are not participating in our elections. And in 2014, 42 percent of people stated that the main inconvenience was that they were “too busy”. Many hourly workers skip voting because time taken out of their day to do so means earlier mornings and many parents are busy driving their kids to school. Although some may think that voter apathy is the reason turnout is so low (another topic for another time), there are many citizens who want to vote, but cannot.
Now, how can we change this?
Some believe that the solution lies in moving election day to the weekend. This could increase voter turnout because most people who work weekdays now are able to vote. Kids are out of school, so parents are more free than they would be on a weekday. And simply, weekends are more relaxed.
Others think that the way to increase voter turnout and patriotism in general is to make election day a federal holiday. Senator Bernie Sanders introduced legislation last year to create Democracy Day. He argues that not only would this increase voter turnout, but also emphasize the importance of active political participation, especially in a democracy.
However, many opponents of such a bill believe that this would be costly and ineffective. First off, a federal holiday would only guarantee days off for federal or state employees. This means that the only people who would get a day off of work and the only people who would increase voter turnout would be governmental employees. Moreover, even if non-federal or state employees would be given a day off, this would come out of their own vacation time. Many also believe that such a holiday would decrease productivity and be costly for companies.
While these arguments have some validity. I strongly believe that election day on a Tuesday is extremely problematic. There is no longer a good enough reason to have it on a Tuesday. Even Columbus Day is a federal holiday. Although whether or not Christopher Columbus should even be given a holiday is highly debated, the fact that we are willing to give a holiday to commemorate how he marked a turning point in western civilization and in turn shaped the course of history, points out the irony that we don’t have a holiday that commemorates a day that will change the future of that history.
photo form bostonuniversity.org