Opinion | Election Day should be a national holiday

By Mackenzie Oster, Staff Columnist

With the Nov. 3 election less than a week away, we are all sitting on the edges of our seats anticipating the outcome. But even the high stakes in this year’s election may not be enough to drive up the voter turnout, considering many people don’t have the luxury of taking the workday off to wait in line at the polls.

Compared to other established democracies, American voter participation is on the bottom end of the spectrum. Many factors contribute to this, one of which being that Election Day falls on a Tuesday — a busy day for working Americans.

Congress established a national Election Day in 1845 to accommodate the schedule of farmers, allowing them to attend church on Sunday as well as the market on Wednesday. It was decided that farmers may need a day like Monday to get to their polling place, and the tradition has encouraged Tuesday as the chosen day for the election ever since.

Although this discretion seems outdated, the tradition of Election Day falling on a Tuesday would be much less detrimental to voters if it were declared a federal holiday. This would bring us one step closer in guaranteeing everyone an equal opportunity to make it to the polls and cast their ballot — especially in today’s heated political climate, where voter suppression and discrimination is so prevalent.

Making Election Day a federal holiday would bring our country one step closer to giving every American an equal opportunity for their voice to be heard. Especially because Black, Latino and working-class voters are disproportionately affected by the implications of voter suppression — some of the very people whose lives will be the most affected by the outcome of this election.

In fact, a survey conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute and The Atlantic found evidence of voter suppression targeted specifically toward Black and Latino voters in the 2016 election. The poll surveyed voters about their voting experiences and evaluation of the country’s political build, yielding data that revealed the heightened barriers that people of color must overcome to cast their ballot. Black and Hispanic Americans reported they were three times as likely to have heard they lacked the correct identification the last time they tried to vote.

The U.S. Census Bureau estimated there were about 245.5 million Americans over the age of 18 in November 2016, with only 157.6 million reported having registered to vote. With 55.7% of the estimated voting-age population turning out in the 2016 election, the United States falls behind most other developed democratic countries.

Declaring Election Day a national holiday could help to combat these discriminatory efforts and encourage all Americans to take to the polls. While states such as Virginia, Delaware, Hawaii, Kentucky and New York have made Election Day a state holiday, the gesture simply is not enough until it is a federal policy for the benefit of all Americans.

Critics of this policy argue that Election Day being a federal holiday still wouldn’t benefit retail, hospital and food employees who all are still required to clock in on holidays and weekends and could skew voter turnout in the favor of white-collar workers, many of whom don’t have to worry about their voices being heard. But the federal holiday provision could combat this possibility by mandating that any and all workers have several hours of paid time off to provide an equal opportunity to make it to the polls.

Not to mention that having an entire day dedicated to the polls would also decrease the heavy rush hours before and after work, which leads to long wait lines and encourages a lack of voter participation for working-class people.

Adam Bonica, an elections expert at Stanford University, explained that a day dedicated to casting a ballot would allow for a more even flow of participants, cutting wait lines and encouraging civic engagement all together.

“We should do all of the above,” Bonica said. “We should have an Election Day holiday, early voting, absentee voting and voting by mail for anyone who wants to vote that way. All of these things are completely feasible and doable. It just takes the political will.”

It’s an American saying that voting is our civic duty, but this is highly hypocritical to the many underlying barriers in the ability to cast our ballot and allow for our voices to be heard. Treating Election Day as a true holiday could help contribute to a culture of participation and inclusion, where it’s encouraged for all Americans of all backgrounds to have the opportunity to participate civically.

You can reach Mackenzie at [email protected].