Monday, October 24, 2016

Election Day Holiday

Some people, including President Obama, are advocating making the November election day a Federal Holiday. It sounds like a good idea on the surface but like most ideas, it is a bit more complicated.

The pros seem obvious. Since federal elections occur on a Tuesday in November, most people are at work or in school. They have to take time off from their job or go before or after work to vote. Polls are typically open from 7:00 AM to 7:00 PM. Including commute time, many people's work days are longer than that. By making it a holiday, more people should be able to get to the polls. Early voting and absentee voting has somewhat diluted this argument. Many people can now vote at home or on a day when it is more convenient. Early voting poll locations also often have no or shorter lines. Parking is usually more available. That makes voting quicker. It is also possible to vote at any early voting location within your county rather than your specific precinct. You may be able to vote near your work location or a location near your children's school, the grocery store or other places you frequent. 

The cons may be less obvious. Everybody will not get the day off. States and local governments may not implement the holiday. Even if they do, there is no requirement for private businesses to close. In most states, there is no requirement even to give employees time off to vote. On the off-chance that everybody is on board with this holiday there are still many who would have to work. Healthcare workers, public safety personnel, utility workers, and the clerk at 7-Eleven. Oh, hopefully the poll workers and election officials won't have the day off. While the airlines would probably fly on that day, local public transportation may close down. That may keep people from the polls. 

In the private sector, many businesses would look at a Federal Holiday as an opportunity. Retail stores may extend their hours and have "Election Day" sales. What would be the big item pushed on this day. Presidents Day already has mattress sales locked down. Maybe some Black Tuesday Christmas sales. So, possibly more retail workers would actually be on the job than on a normal Tuesday.

There is also the cost involved. It is estimated that it costs about $500 million in federal employee wages for a holiday. Of course, the taxpayer burden would be much higher if state and local governments also observe the holiday.

I suspect that very few or none of the current "Red" states would be observing an Election Day holiday. It took years for some states to observe MLK Day and even today, several give the January holiday a different name.

I don't know if an Election Day holiday is a good idea. It may be more productive to continue to increase early voting in all states. Maybe pass a federal law requiring employers to allow paid time off to vote. Some states already require this. How about we consider electronic voting in this age of the internet. Would a holiday actually increase turnout or would people plan other activities with their free time? Would a ton of people also take Monday off to make it a four day weekend?

Regardless of any future changes to election laws and procedures, the objective should be to get more people to vote. That means all people, not just the ones who support your particular political views or party. 

What do you think?


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