Millions of Americans will vote on Election Day--maybe the biggest turnout ever for a non-presidential year. And yet, even in a record year, we're probably talking about a little over 40 percent turnout at best.
That's pathetic. So, we do things to offset our broken system. For example, we ask private employers to subsidize by offering their employees paid time off to go vote.
It's admirable that many businesses are stepping up this year, but it only highlights how ridiculously messed up our system is to begin with. And it's all primarily because we do two insane things at the outset:
- We limit voting to a single Tuesday, right when most people have to be at work.
- We steadfastly refuse to make Election Day itself a national holiday.
Truly, you couldn't design a system to make it harder for many people to vote if you tried. The good news is that since our voting laws are basically the result of a law Congress passed back in 1845, all it would take to change them is another Act of Congress now.
Below, let's look at the very simple legal changes that we could make that would improve the system immensely and make voting easier for everyone. If you're a business owner who would rather not have to subsidize this anachronistic system, or simply an American who believes in our country, I hope you'll agree it's long past time to fix.
Step 1: Change 'Election Day' to 'Election Days'
Let's start with the basic question: Why is Election Day only one day?
Answer: No reason. In fact, with absentee ballots and early voting in many states, it's a single day in name only. But it would make a lot more sense if we worked this right into the federal law.
Instead of having a single Election Day on a Tuesday, Congress should change the law and establish a a four-day period of "Election Days," plural. My thought is that it would start on the first Saturday in November and finish, for tradition's sake, on our now-familiar Tuesday four days later.
With this new change, just like that, if you can't get of work, or you get sick, or you have last-minute child care issues or you have to travel, it's no longer fatal. You get four full days to vote. Can't do it Saturday? Come back on Monday.
By the way, Congress originally chose Tuesday back in 1845 because we were an agrarian society back then. Sunday was for church, Wednesday was for the market. Tuesdays were free then. (Not anymore.) But we're only halfway done with our much-needed reforms.
Step 2: Celebrate Veterans Day on the last day of our new 'Election Days'
Why didn't Congress make Election Day a holiday back in 1845? One reason would seem to be that there really weren't any official federal holidays until more than 30 years later.
Yes, people in government took Christmas and Independence Day off. But look down the list of other federal holidays and when they began: Washington's Birthday (est. 1879), Memorial Day (est. 1888), and Labor Day (est. 1894). All established many years after the 1845 decision to set Election Day.
This brings us to Veterans Day (est. 1938), which originally honored veterans of World War I (which is why it was set on November 11, the anniversary of the World War I Armistice). Since then however, it's been changed to a day honoring every U.S. veteran, whenever he or she served.
Unfortunately, Veteran's Day is now largely overlooked by most Americans. Outside of government, very few people get the day off from work, for example. But that brings with it the easy solution.
Just move Veterans Day to the final day of voting. I can't think of a better way to encourage people to remember and thank our veterans, than to have the final Election Day double as a celebration of the men and women without whom our country wouldn't even exist.
It's just that easy
There you have it. It's really that simple. Yes, making the time for voting four days long would be a big change, but honestly, once you've thought about this a little while, you'll realize how arbitrary and strange it is that we chose to limit it to one day to begin with.
There would be a lot of other benefits, too. For example, with our current, single day scheme, a weather disaster or other big disruptive even could completely wipe out confidence in voting results.
Lots of schools close on both Election Day and Veterans Day now, even if most workplaces don't, but this new system would require only day off. (I know schoolkids won't like that part, but they can't vote.)
For people who are concerned about voter fraud, they might get more supporters of requiring I.D., because if a voter was turned away on the first day of voting for not having the right kind of identification, he or she would still have several days to fix whatever the issue was, and come back.
And, we'd wind up with people having a lot more reason to trust the results, and appreciate their their fellow Americans designed a system that is intended to maximize every opportunity for every citizen to vote.
I'm aware that some might argue that the system is intentionally set up now to make it difficult to vote and keep turnout low.
But I choose not to be a cynic. If our goal really is to make the whole thing more convenient and easier for people to do their civic duty and vote, these two changes seem both brilliant and simple. Let us know in the comments what you think of the ideas.