Story by Bradford Grossman '17
On November 3, 2015, New York representative Steve Israel proposed the Weekend Voting Act. This act, if passed, would change our federal elections from the first Tuesday in November to “the First Saturday and Sunday after the First Friday in November” (H.R.3910). This proposal was the fifth time since 2008 that Israel introduced the Weekend Voting Act with hopes to eradicate low voter turnout, a growing problem in our political system. In the United States’ most recent Federal Elections, the 2014 midterms, a mere thirty-six percent of eligible voters cast ballots; voter turnout has not been so low since since 1942 (New York Times). A major contributing factor to this declining number lies with potential voters who are unable to vote on a busy workday. According to a study by the Pew research center, sixty-nine percent of eligible voters cited “obligations at school or work”, being “too busy,” out of town, or simply forgetting the date of elections. By holding Election day on a working Tuesday, Americans are greatly inconvenienced or deterred from voting, such that many cannot exercise their constitutional rights and fulfill their civic duty; weekend voting would increase turnout dramatically, producing a more thorough representation of public opinion in government affairs.
Election Weekend would have a transformative effect on the way Americans elect their federal representatives and would better fulfill the democratic ideals of the United States. The option to vote on weekends offers citizens a convenient time to vote outside the normal stresses of the workday. Spreading the voting period over two days also allows for shorter waiting times at the polling stations, where voters may wait for hours. Others are required to be at work before the polls open, and must get to their local polling stations during the evening commute, hoping to reach the voting booths before the polls close. Many Americans work two jobs and do not have the option of voting without losing their jobs, because Election Day is not a national holiday. Voting on a weekends solves these dilemmas and preserves an economically productive workday.
Increasing the number of voters would change the course of US politics. According to a study done by professor Anthony Fowler, sixty-eight percent of those who don’t turnout for midterm elections support Democrats (McElwee). In a Pew Research poll conducted after the 2012 presidential election, nonvoters preferred Barack Obama to Mitt Romney by fifty-nine percent to twenty-four percent, while likely voters were split forty-seven percent for each (McElwee). If this situation continues, then the current system of Tuesday voting is not providing accurate representation of the public will.
Until 1845, there was no national election day, which led to a very complicated and inefficient election system run by the states. By 1845, Congress created a nationwide election day to unify the process. In the heavily agrarian society of the time, farmers needed a day to ride into town, and thus Tuesday was deemed the perfect day for voting. Congressman Israel remarked, "That may have made sense in 1845, but the world has moved on" (Simmons-Duffin). Moreover, if Congress chose Tuesday out of “convenience,” it should follow that ancient logic, and change to a voting weekend for modern convenience.
However, opposition to weekend voting is plentiful.The first objection is not levelled against the concept of election weekend itself, but instead against the voters themselves. Washington Post columnist George Will argues that many people do not vote because there are too many complex issues to follow in today’s political climate. Voters are discouraged because they believe “the likelihood of his or her vote being decisive in an election is vanishingly small” (George Will). The other counter argument, aside from tradition, lies with the fact of cost; two days of elections would drastically increase the cost of holding an election.
In response, it is no lie that there is an exorbitant amount of knowledge for voters to comprehend for Election Day. Contrastingly, the amount of political information that voters ought to know is not a major factor in deterring their participation. In the same Pew research poll, only twenty percent of non-voters were in the category of ‘didn’t like the candidates, didn’t know enough, or didn’t care’ (Why Tuesday?). This statistic addresses the argument that voters do not believe that their vote will count, and therefore do not care to vote. Additionally, while someone’s single vote may not determine an election, if only one million people--less than half a percent of the voting population--decide that their votes do not mean anything, then one million votes--which could have changed several elections, such as the 2000 Presidential race--are not cast for anyone. Therefore, the author concedes that there would be an increase in the cost for a weekend election. However, the increase in cost would be worth it if more people could exercise their right to vote and provide the people with more complete representation.
Election Weekend would allow more Americans to cast ballots, due to the decreased amount of barriers associated with voting on a Tuesday. If Congress initially set election day as Tuesday in order to make it the most accessible day for voters in 1845, then the weekend would certainly be deemed most convenient in the citizens’ fast paced lives of the twenty-first century. While there may be an increase in cost, one must consider the benefits of greater turnout and better representation for the beliefs of the American people. Our government is obligated to embody the views of the American people, but if only thirty-six percent of people voted in the last midterm, only thirty-six percent of the population is represented. Low voter turnout is a problem easily solvable with the improvement of the US’ electoral system. With the upcoming election this fall, let us look towards improving our democracy and getting people out to the polls. In the meantime, go out to vote! If you can’t, remind those who can!
Weekend Voting Act, H.R. 3910, 114th Cong. (2015). Print.
"The Worst Voter Turnout in 72 Years." The New York Times. The New York Times, 11 Nov. 2014. Web. 28 Jan. 2016.
"Why Tuesday?" Why Tuesday? N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Jan. 2016.
Simmons-Duffin, Selena. "Why Are Elections On Tuesdays?" NPR. NPR, 23 Oct. 2012. Web. 28 Jan. 2016.
Will, George F. "George Will: The Price of Political Ignorance." Washington Post. The Washington Post, 1 Jan. 2014. Web. 28 Jan. 2016.
McElwee, Sean. "OPINION: If Everyone Voted, Progressives Would Win." If Everyone Voted, Progressives Would Win. Al Jazeera America, 17 Mar. 2015. Web. 03 Feb. 2016.