Of the many remarkable facets of the recent 2018 midterm elections, the surge in voter turnout was one that garnered a lot of attention and speculation. The 2018 midterms displayed at least a 10 percent increase in voter turnout compared to the 2014 midterms as well as the highest turnout for a midterm election since 1966. Some districts had turnouts that matched or even exceeded turnout for the 2016 election.
While the various reasonings and implications for the surge in voter turnout continue to cloud the minds of many political scientists and students here at GDS, the focus on voter turnout shouldn’t be quickly disregarded or marked as resolved. The U.S. still lags significantly behind other developed nations in voter turnout, with a record low 33 percent during the 2014 midterm elections.
For a nation that boasts its commitment to democracy, it’s important to continue thinking of ways to counter the fact that more than half of the U.S. population doesn’t vote in most elections. This raises the question of whether election day should be a national holiday to further sanctify the process that is vital to democracy.
According to the data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the second most common rationale for not turning out to vote during the 2016 election was scheduling conflicts or simply being too busy. Therefore, making election day a national holiday is a relatively achievable way to ensure that more people have the opportunity and time in their day to vote without any risks to their source of income. It is one of the easiest solutions to ensuring the removal of some of the barriers that continue to prevent a majority of Americans from voting regularly.
A functional democracy revolves around equal rights to vote but also equal opportunities to actually cast that ballot, and many GDS students agree.
“We’ve worked very hard to make voting a fundamental right,” Senior Jeff Elias said. “I think it’s another step in making it that right more reachable for all. Making election day a national holiday would also greatly help by specifically reaching people who are poorer and often younger, and just in general, those who can’t afford to leave work.”
Our chosen representatives are only truly representative of their constituents if as many voters as possible show up at polling stations.
Barriers to voting can be especially problematic given that the populations that face fewer barriers to voting, ones that typically include voters 65 years and above, will make up a larger portion of the votes cast.
“Even my parents and brother, who are extremely privileged and interested in politics, have to vote early because they often are too busy on election day,” Junior Tayae Rogers said. “Therefore, it would most likely be even more difficult for someone who isn’t as privileged to go out and vote.”
Making election day a national holiday, however, could generate more publicity and media attention for voter mobilization organizations. Many people feel distanced and disconnected from representatives in D.C. and often feel disenfranchised by political processes. A national holiday could thus inspire more civic participation among all voters, especially young people, and work towards making voting a cultural norm.
Yet there are still downsides. For those who don’t work in the federal sector, a national holiday doesn’t mean a day off but rather more work. For example, small businesses and restaurants often can’t afford to take a day off and consequently would still require employees to work to accommodate the increased business from people who don’t have to go back to work after voting, putting a greater strain on people from lower-income households.
Additionally, the majority of people who cited scheduling problems as an inhibitor for voting actually came from upper-class or upper-middle-class households. People from lower-income households on the other hand, more frequently cited illness, disability or lack of transportation to polling stations as the main reasons that they didn’t turn out to vote.
Real dedication to improving voter turnout also has to include relying on small business owners and other service industries to make sure that they give workers time off on election day and to share information on state-specific regulations or other voting-related details. Companies can also include voter registration forms with employment forms.
Ultimately, though it isn’t perfect, making election day a national holiday could be one more step towards more representative and equitable democracy. At the very least, people will have fewer excuses for not showing up at polling stations.
“While I understand that this solution isn’t perfect, only a little bit of voter suppression is better than large amounts,” senior Sarah Cooper said.
Voting is an essential aspect of American identity and we should do everything we can to ensure that as many people as possible have opportunities to make a difference.
By: Joyce Yang ’19