In case you've been living under a rock, I'll let you know that the presidential election is coming up on November 8. While many states offer options for voting, such as early voting and absentee voting, a great many of us will stand in line on November 8 to cast our ballot. That can sometimes cut into a work day, and because of that many people are proposing that we make election day a national holiday.
Beau C. Tremitiere, editor-in-chief of the Northwestern University Law Review, proposed making it a holiday for the following reason:
Voting on Tuesday was a good idea in the 1800s, when Wednesdays were market days, weekends were dedicated to worship, and farmers needed time to travel to and from their county seat's election box. What began as an accommodation for farmers on horseback has since become an obstacle, real and symbolic, to democratic participation in America.
The demands of school and work schedules keep millions of Americans, especially those with children or long commutes, from ever getting to their polling stations. Countless other students and workers who do manage to cast their ballots would love to be even more involved in the process -- whether by driving elderly neighbors to the polls, helping illiterate voters understand their ballots, or serving as a poll watcher to deter foul play -- but can't afford to skip class or take off a shift.
That sounds lovely, but perhaps 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.Tremitiere hasn't paid a lot of attention to what
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 jurisdictions, of course, already close schools on election days, but not all.) 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. I don't think anyone is advocating that--at least not out loud. (I hope no one is advocating that.)
A far better approach is the one some companies are taking voluntarily. The Wall Street Journal reported on some companies that are giving employees the day off anyway. A voluntary shut down solves problems without creating more and can more easily accommodate business needs.
Additionally, many state laws already provide practical laws on voting. Such as Hawaii, which requires everyone get a two-hour break to vote unless their schedule allows them at least "two consecutive hours between the opening and closing of the polls during which they are not scheduled to be at work." Or New Hampshire, which allows for absentee voting if you have to work on election day.
It's true that US elections have overall low voter turnout. It's also true that people focus heavily on the presidential election, but local elections and primaries can actually have a greater impact on people's day to day lives, and those elections aren't always held in concert with the presidential elections. We couldn't possibly make every election day a national holiday without consolidating everything. That seems like federal over-reach.
Regardless of your state laws, make sure your employees have the time to vote. Shut down if you like, but don't lobby for a federal holiday. It sounds nice, but it will affect many people in a negative way