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Inspired by this question

The United States has low levels of voter turnout as compared to other developed democracies. As seen in the above question, low-income individuals are less likely to vote than their higher-income counterparts.

Given that low-income individuals are the most likely to not vote largely because they need to work - often being paid hourly and needing the money more desperately than others, and that low-income individuals are more likely to be Democrats than Republicans, why hasn't a democratic politician spearheaded this effort that could see increased turnout from their base? I understand that perhaps for purely political reasons a Republican wouldn't want to champion this and risk higher turnout in demographics they don't necessarily have support from, but for a Democrat this seems like something that would be easy to make a case for and would enjoy popular support from the nation.

What arguments have been posed for and against Election Day being a holiday, and is there a partisan split in the debate (if any)?

I realize that some federal holidays generally entail most people having the full day off or at least reduced hours, such as Christmas Day, while others such as Columbus Day go largely unnoticed. I would assume the Election Day holiday would be more like the former than the latter

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    What do you think the effect is when the government makes something a federal holiday? – cpast Feb 19 '18 at 16:37
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    Do you think the targeted population would get the day off if it were a federal holiday? Do fast food restaurants, malls, and the like close for Federal holidays? – Drunk Cynic Feb 19 '18 at 16:53
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    I suggest that the non-voting because of work hypothesis is not valid, since (in many states) one can use early voting, mail-in ballots, or other methods to avoid having to trek to a polling place on election day. And in fact in my state, over twice as many people did in the last election: silverstateelection.com/vote-turnout Indeed, I'd suggest any correlation is the other way around: poverty and non-voting are often the long-term result of the same set of attitudes & behaviors. – jamesqf Feb 19 '18 at 18:56
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    I'm surprise this isn't close as opinion based. Why is higher voter turn-out better? And the answer isn't: "Other developed countries have higher voter turnout" Except for an extremely small percentage of the population, those who want to vote, can. – Frank Cedeno Feb 19 '18 at 19:09
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    @DrunkCynic You make a good point. But note that Election Day falls on a Tuesday based on the need for farmers to have enough time to get from their farms to polling stations in towns and cities. This logic was based on the needs of Americans in 1845 and still persists to this day. This is not a Republican issue nor is it a Democratic issue, but it is an example of how the system does not work in the modern world. Making Election Day a holiday—or just have it happen over a weekend—would be a forward thinking thing. – JakeGould Feb 20 '18 at 0:32
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The reason is simple: There isn't enough support in the US Congress to make Election Day a federal holiday.


Democracy Day

Democracy Day is the tentative name of a possible federal holiday in the United States, proposed by Democratic Representative John Conyers of Michigan.

The bill was referred to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform in January 2005 and ultimately had 110 co-sponsors. The bill has since lapsed and would need to be reintroduced before the proposal could be reconsidered.

A companion resolution was introduced in the Senate on May 26, 2005 by Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan. It was co-sponsored by Democratic Senators Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Carl Levin of Michigan. The companion resolution did not leave the Senate Committee on the Judiciary and has now also lapsed.

The bill was recently reintroduced on Nov. 12, 2014 by independent Senator Bernie Sanders. It has not been enacted.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Democracy_Day_(United_States)


Why the lack of support?

Here are several possible reasons:

  • "It would be like trying to pass a constitutional amendment," said Michele Swers, a professor of American government at Georgetown University. The last event to become a federal holiday was Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday back in 1986. 1

  • Aside from congressional hurdles, companies are likely resistant to adding another holiday to their work schedule. "If you’re going to make it a federal holiday, that’s basically forcing companies to give workers additional vacation time, so that’s going to cost them money and productivity,” Swers said." 1

  • Then there’s the idea of holding Election Day on a weekend, something government officials determined is a costly alternative, according to a study from the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) assessing the cost of a two-day voting weekend. For security alone, officials estimated the extra cost time overseeing ballots would range from about $100,000 [in one jurisdiction] to as much as $400,000 [in another jurisdiction].1

Another argument against the weekend might be that it conflicts with the Sabbath. If voting is on Friday or Saturday, many Jews may not be able to vote. If voting is on a Sunday, many church-goers may object.

Then there are the many businesses that remain open on federal holidays:

  • [Proponents of making Election Day a federal holiday haven't] paid a lot of attention to what actually happens on most federal holidays. Big businesses like banks and the white collar jobs at pharmaceutical companies shut down, and all the employees get a day off with pay. Schools and universities shut down, giving teachers and professors time to vote.

    But you know what doesn't shut down for federal holidays? Retail. Restaurants. Hospitals. Smaller businesses that can't afford to lose a day of revenue, and if they do, they certainly can't afford to pay people for the time off.

    What does that mean? If you make election day a federal holiday, you'll have all the people who work in these types of jobs still having to work, being inundated with customers who have the day off and they won't have child care because the schools will be closed. Some businesses may close, but their hourly paid employees will either have to use a PTO day or not get paid.

    Now, if you just want white collar people to vote, by all means, make it more difficult for blue collar people by removing their child care, and increasing their work hours because companies will take advantage of the holiday to run sales and promotions.2

Then there's data from the US Census, which suggests that an election day holiday would not increase participation for lower-income voters:

  • The question of who would benefit from an Election Day holiday is further complicated by looking more closely at the Census Bureau’s data on nonvoters.

    In 2014, registered voters from households making more than $150,000 a year were the most likely to say they were too busy to head to the polls — more than 35 percent of them claimed so, while none of the income brackets less than $40,000 had more than 25 percent of respondents report they were too busy.

    Unsurprisingly, lower-income nonvoters are more likely than wealthier nonvoters to cite illness and disability or trouble getting to the polls as problems. Wealthier nonvoters, less impeded by these kinds of challenges, say they have mostly their schedules to blame.

    Given this, an Election Day holiday would remove a significant barrier to participation for relatively well-to-do potential voters while doing little to make voting easier for a significant number of less privileged ones.3

1 Why Election Day isn’t a federal holiday

2 No, Election Day Should Not Be a Federal Holiday

3 Maybe Making Election Day a National Holiday Wouldn’t Really Work

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    "If voting is on a Sunday, many church-goers may object." ... that is unimaginable in Germany (where are elections are done on Sundays). You are not in church for the full day, are you? (I guess it is annoying for the people who have to staff the security measures, but you could do shifts there.) – Paŭlo Ebermann Feb 20 '18 at 22:01
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    It is similar here. (Though the church part depends a bit on the religiosity of the people in question – there are quite some who still adhere to it, and others much less.) That still doesn't mean you can't include a trip to the voting station when it is voting day (usually at most three times every 4 years or such, at different schedules for the different levels and lower levels depending on state). You can even make it a family trip (all the grown up's vote, and the children can get a look at the procedere). – Paŭlo Ebermann Feb 20 '18 at 22:47
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    Elections are held on Sundays in Poland as well, where church-going-lobby is much stronger than in Germany. – el.pescado Feb 21 '18 at 9:01
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    BTW, Sunday elections work in favour of church-goers. First, they have to leave homes anyway, so they could vote on their way back from church, so turnaround is higher amongst church-goers. Second, Sunday service might nudge voters inot options more favourable to other church-goers (it's illegal because of there's election silence but who's gonna go after clergy?). – el.pescado Feb 21 '18 at 10:39
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    Yes, the lack of support in the US Congress is a better explanation than the loss of productivity. If the latter would be really the reason not to make a federal holiday, then US would not have any federal holiday at all. – kiamlaluno Feb 22 '18 at 8:17
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In some states, election day is a holiday.

The counter argument you are looking for is that the federal government shouldn't dictate how states implement their elections. If the states wish to declare their own civic holidays on election day they are free to do so, without the federal government requiring it and the corresponding loss of productivity from anyone else who doesn't want the holiday.

Other states solve the issue differently, for instance Colorado, Oregon, and Washington hold their elections via the postal system. Legislators can argue that the loss of economic activity due to the closing of businesses adversely affect the state, and other avenues of solving the problem of lack of participation are available.

Another alternative solution proposed would be to move the current election day to always land on November 11th, which happens to be Veterans Day and is already a federal holiday that is widely observed. This can be done without taking the step of declaring election day itself a holiday around the same time in November when elections are generally held, and a lot of people already have the day off of work so there will be less work hours lost than having a separate holiday.

Additionally, the left-leaning Slate published an article pointing out that, even though many people would get the day off, other certain types of establishments that don't generally close for federal holidays still won't benefit because they won't observe the holiday. (Inc.com also published a similar argument.) Restaurants, retail, healthcare, all are businesses that generally get inundated with customers on other federal holidays, causing those industries an undue strain on the same day where their workers would need time off to go to polls also.

Still further, the problem of low-income voters not voting may be an XY-problem. Perhaps it's not because they can't get the time off to vote, but rather they don't believe voting would do them any good if they did, making the exercise not worthwhile in their eyes. If their employer closes in deference to a holiday, they may be adversely affected financially against their will.

One final observation is that there is more to an election than just the day of voting. The only holiday we're talking about is the day of the actual election, but counting primaries and run-offs there could be more days throughout the year that require voter participation. These elections are arguably more important, since they determine who gets to appear on the ballot. Creating a federal holiday for the election won't encourage people to participate in choosing who is available in the pool of candidates to pick from.

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    And as yet another alternative, voting could also be on Sundays like first Sunday in November for example. – Trilarion Feb 19 '18 at 21:30
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    Personally, I wouldn't regard voting as work. Around the world, voting days are very much varied. Tuesdays, Thursdays, lots of Sundays (in Christian countries as well), spread the election over multiple days, ... – Trilarion Feb 19 '18 at 21:47
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    @Trilarion I'm personally astonished we still call it "Election Day". We could just as easily leave the polls open for a week and people can filter in when they want, which is I think what the no-excuse early voting is trying to accomplish. – Jeff Lambert Feb 19 '18 at 21:48
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    If we make it easier or harder for any group of people to vote, it will invariably benefit one party more than the other, and the less-benefited party will vehemently oppose it. That makes it difficult to enact any change, even when everyone agrees it's objectively good. – BlueRaja - Danny Pflughoeft Feb 20 '18 at 5:16
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    @JeffLambert We still use (at least in many jurisdictions) actually people watching the boxes/machines as part of the security procedures for elections, so having the polls open for several days would exacerbate the problem of finding enough people to staff the security measures. But then I'm not sure what the security measure look like in vote-by-mail jurisdictions. – dmckee Feb 20 '18 at 17:08
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You might also look at the kind of jobs that low income people have.

  1. Food prep, host(ess), wait staff, or dishwasher.
  2. Cashier.
  3. Amusement park attendant or movie usher/ticket taker.
  4. Farm worker.
  5. Personal and home care aides.

On a holiday, the first three are more likely to work, as they provide services for people not working. On a normal workday, they might have an evening shift where they could vote during the day easily (or an early morning shift where they could vote afterwards). On a holiday they might have an extra long day shift, since it is extra busy.

Farm workers in the United States are mostly non-citizens, so even if they would get the day off, they couldn't vote.

Personal and home care aides are often needed every day. So most won't get the day off even if it is a holiday.

Most people get off Christmas because it is a major holiday where people simply would refuse to work, not because it is a federal holiday. But even then, there are some restaurants and gas stations open.

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Making it a federal holiday would only cause some federal employees not to work. It would have no effect on state or local government employees, students, or private sector employees. For example, on Veterans Day some public schools are still open.

Already, federal employees are ensured 3 hours to vote.

So the only effect of the law would be that federal employees get more than 3 hours to vote.

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As DavePhD's answer noted, making it a federal holiday would only affect federal workers, who are already ensured to have enough time to vote.

Additionally, most states in the U.S. already require employers to allow their employees a reasonable amount of time away from work to vote. The exact amount of time varies by state. It appears that only around 10 states (of 50) don't have such a law.

workplacefairness.org has a state-by-state list of the existing requirements.

AFL-CIO also maintains such a list.

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You typically only need a short period of time to actually vote. Making it a full day "holiday" would only encourage people to make it a true holiday and do something else, i.e. go fishing or go to a museum rather then go to the polls there by causing a lower turn-out, the exact opposite of the goal.

  • This is not the case in countries where voting takes place on holidays/sundays like in Germany or Poland. It is only the case if people really do not care a bit about voting. Anybody else can go to the polls in the morning, then proceed with the day-long activity. – Thern Feb 24 '18 at 10:45

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