This past Election Day, we again heard the call for systemic change, but see only stagnation on large-scale public policy. Election Day still needs to be a holiday and can be a systemic change we implement from the ground up.
According to data from the Census Bureau, one of the top four reasons for not voting is people being too busy to vote, and evidence shows making Election Day a federal holiday increases voter turnout. Brigham Young University’s 2017 study found “for individuals who failed to vote in a previous election due to work or being too busy ... creating a national holiday for Election Day would increase voter turnout by 50%.”
Voters may have to go through laborious measures finding time to vote, and these burdens often fall disproportionately on communities of color. For example, according to the Center for American Progress, “Black voters are, on average, forced to wait in line nearly twice as long as white voters.”
The American people support Election Day being designated as a federal holiday. The Pew Research Center found in a 2018 survey that 65% are in favor of making Election Day a national holiday. Given the recent rash of voter suppression laws and political turmoil, public support for this proposal has only increased. We’ve seen how a wave of cultural momentum and will can facilitate the necessity of a federally recognized holiday just as it did last year with the recognition of Juneteenth.
According to The Pew Research Center, the United States placed 30 out of 35 in the Organization for Economic and Cooperation and Development’s countries for voter turnout in the most recent elections as of 2016. We should take the lead from these other democracies who have designated Election Day as a holiday, among other methods of making access to the ballot box easier for citizens.
We don’t have to wait for the federal government to make Election Day a national holiday, though. There are alternatives available to us -- primarily, states and local municipalities can sign it into law.
Several states already made Election Day a civic holiday, including Hawaii, Kentucky, New York and, most recently, Virginia. Governors and mayors in remaining states can call for it in their agendas. City and town councils can adapt it under local control. It’s worth testing the waters not just for the response from the courts but to also move the cultural needle.
Opponents are concerned that with local, state, primary and general elections occurring multiple times a year, designating each of these as holidays will add too many days off for government employees. Isn’t exercising our constitutional right to vote to decide the direction of our country more important?
We can be inventive about how to deal with the economic impact. One proposal is to move Veteran’s Day to Election Day, negating the need for additional federal holidays and turning the combined holiday into a celebration of what our service members are fighting for: democracy.
In an even more ingenious solution, Sandusky, Ohio, took the unique step of replacing Columbus Day with Election Day. The town dually addressed the cultural and historical issues presented by Columbus Day and made it easier for their townspeople to vote in future elections.
Once local or state governments designate Election Day as a holiday for government employees, or develop creative solutions like Sandusky, companies and corporations should follow suit to craft policies for non-government employees.
Making Election Day a holiday, whether at the local and state level or as a federal holiday, is only one component of making it easier for the American people to exercise their constitutional right to vote and increase voter turnout. It is a quick systemic change that would have a massive impact on voting, on elections, and on legislation.
Erin Vilardi is founder and CEO of Vote Run Lead, an organization that trains women to run for political office. Vote Run Lead has offices in New York City and Duluth, Minnesota.