Election Day: Would More Vote If They Had The Day Off?

federal voting holiday

Even with both Republican and Democratic parties bragging about their ground game, Americans will likely hit Nov. 7 knowing at least one number: just 50 to 60 percent of the voting age population will have cast ballots.

There are many reasons for this. For people in non-swing states, their presidential choice doesn't matter. Others don't know enough about the election to vote. Others know enough but don't like the choices. Others just don't care. And some people can't get to the polls for logistical reasons (which could become more of an issue in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy) or various conflicts.

From time to time, people propose that Election Day should be a national holiday in order to boost turnout. (Some state government workers, such as those in New York, already get the day off.) While at first glance this seems like a good idea, I tend to think there are other reforms worth looking at that would make it more convenient for anyone who wants to vote to vote (perhaps even after natural disasters) without the drawbacks of creating a holiday.

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Certainly, there's something nice sounding about a "democracy day" -- honoring the basic act of participation. Also, since some people get Veteran's Day off of work, one could envision switching the celebration of that holiday to coincide with Election Day (thus not creating the additional burden on businesses, parents with kids in school, etc. of another holiday).

But there are a few other problems with the idea as well.

1. Not everyone would get the day off. Hospitals still operate on holidays, as do emergency services, toll road operators, airport staff, etc. So do many businesses, since people who have the day off of work will still want to put gas in their cars, go grocery shopping, etc. Would the political makeup of those-who-get-the-day-off vs. those-who-don't tip the balance of elections? Hard to know (because I could see arguments pointing in the direction of both major parties), though in a 50-50 country, it's possible.

2. It doesn't take all day to vote. It's usually taken me less than half an hour, though in some swing states at peak times it can take 90 minutes or more.

That said, making Election Day a national holiday wouldn't shorten lines. The way to do that -- while still making it more convenient to vote -- is to do what a number of states are already doing. Allow early voting. If it doesn't work for you to vote on the first Tuesday of November, you can come in to a few polling places at any point that's convenient for you during the two weeks (or month) prior.

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Another idea -- particularly helpful after disasters -- would be to come up with a system for instantaneous absentee-ballot requests. There might be potential for fraud, but it seems like enough smart people thinking about this could figure out a way to minimize that possibility. This would make it possible for someone who got called on a business trip to Europe on Sunday of election week, or someone who found out that she had a 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. shift on Tuesday, or someone whose normal polling place is underwater, to quickly log on to some sort of online or telephone system and cast a ballot.

And the simplest solution? Have the polls stay open longer. While it's nice for newscasters that some states close the polls at 7 p.m., there's really no good reason for this during presidential elections, when 100 million people will do their civic duty. Polls can stay open from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m., or even the entirety of the first Tuesday of November. People can find out who won the next day.

Do you think Election Day should be a holiday?

[CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article implied that government workers in all states get Election Day day off. That's true in only some states.]

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No! We had two weeks for early voting, and it took me 15 mins. to vote yesterday. My husband got off at 5 and he didnt have to wait know more than 20 mins. yesterday.

November 07 2012 at 7:06 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I vote absentee just in case I am out of town on election day. No excuse not to vote.

November 06 2012 at 8:08 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I live in Hawaii. Here election day is already a state holiday.

November 06 2012 at 8:03 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Im in Thailand right now, and I still got my vote in.... no excuse not to vote!

November 06 2012 at 7:58 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Some states had two weeks of early voting. No excuse.

November 06 2012 at 7:58 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply


November 06 2012 at 7:57 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Judas Priest, it isn't like ya have to drive cross country to get to the voting place. And I doubt it would increase participation, maybe just the opposite as many would turn it intoa 4 day weekend and head for the hills.

November 06 2012 at 5:48 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

NOOOOOO, that day should not be a holiday. If people had the day off, they wouldn't vote. They would go to the beach.

November 06 2012 at 5:42 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Early voting should be madatory 7 days a week, 8AM to 9PM for a month. There should be one equal capacity voting location for each unit of population so that a small town with 5,000 people doesn't get one or two polling places while a city with 5 million gets 10 polling places. This disenfranchises and suppresses the vote of city dwellers by making them stand in line for 3 hours to sometimes 8 hours whereas the more Republican suburbs can vote in a half hour and be done.

November 06 2012 at 5:17 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I have said many times that the polling places should be open extended hours, thereby giving everyone a chance to vote. I felt 5AM to 11PM would be sufficient, but a 24 hour day would be even better. Also, if people have odd working hours, they can always vote a mail in ballot. Mine was in the mail 2 weeks ago.

November 06 2012 at 5:11 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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