Posted by Allison Mcneely on July 01, 2008At FairVote, we love hearing about interesting causes that are helping to change democracy and we can put our name behind. Joe Harrow of The Point recently brought to our attention a campaign to make Election Day a national holiday. Started by The Point member Andrew G., the campaign is striving to recruit 100 000 supporters and for members to skip work on November 4th 2008.
Upon hearing about this campaign I wondered: why is Election Day on a Tuesday and are there any countries whose election day is a national holiday?
According to the aptly named website Why Tuesday?, Election Day became the Tuesday after the first Monday in November starting in 1845 because of the agrarian nature of American society at the time. Simply put, Tuesday was the easiest day for farmers who were traveling by horse and buggy to get to the polls. Why Tuesday? believes that a Tuesday election day does not meet most voters' needs and it should be moved to the weekend or become a national holiday.
Attempts to turn Election Day into a national holiday have been made in the past, but despite the positive impact for voters, they never seem to get much traction in Congress. There are many speculative reasons as to why attempts to create a national holiday have failed, but I am inclined to believe that it is simply not an important enough issue for most politicians. For one, some states have already created Election Day holidays and so there is no motivation to push for a national holiday.
Supporters of turning Election Day into a national holiday cite increased voter participation as the main reason for supporting legislation. As any dedicated observer of American elections knows, voter turnout in the United States is quite low compared to other Western democracies such as Canada, Great Britain, Germany, Sweden and Australia. A national holiday would also free up more public buildings and increase voter accessibility. More schools and churches would be available to turn into polling places. Finally, everyone loves a holiday.
Ironically, it appears that fewer Western democracies and more pseudo-democracies have a national holiday for Election Day. The United States, Great Britain and Canada do not have national holidays, yet Angola and Zimbabwe do for their elections. Perhaps the creation of a national holiday in these countries is just a situation of bread and circuses as they do not rank highly on Freedom House's political rights and civil liberties index, yet the American experience has the potential to be much different and positive.
Turning Election Day in the United States into a national holiday would increase the voting opportunities for all Americans, especially for those who could otherwise not vote due to work commitments.