Make It a Holiday

Make It a Holiday

Despite years of tinkering, fretting, and hand-wringing, Election Day turnout still ain’t what it’s cracked up to be. Frankly, one wonders what, if anything, should be done about it.

How far should we, as part of an organized society, go toward getting people to vote? Ought we simply grant people their right to participate, open up the voting booths, and let folks have their say? Or, should we do everything in our power to encourage the highest turnout possible, by providing for early voting, making voter registration easier and more accessible, experimenting with online elections, eliminating the laws that prohibit felons from voting, and publicizing the places where all of this gamesmanship takes place? Put simply, how hard should we, as a nation, push this election stuff?

The issue pushes some hot buttons. Traditionally, Democrats have been at the forefront of ensuring as wide a suffrage and as big a turnout as possible. In the Tennessee Legislature, for instance, Democrats have proposed bills allowing for voter registration at driver’s license centers. They have encouraged early voting as well. The theory is that they stand to gain a larger share of the vote if more people head to the polls. After all, it is mostly Democratic-leaning constituencies who currently don’t vote. It’s the poor—those who do not have transportation to the polls, or cannot take time off from their jobs, or don’t know anything about the election at all.

As for Republicans, they seem to pretty much agree. From their collective perspective, because more of their voters are educated and wealthy, and this class of people is more likely to vote, they would just as soon see turnout continue as it is.

Of course, these are generalizations. We suspect some Republicans are all for encouraging a high turnout (although we can’t think of any at the moment). With the exception of allowing felons to vote—an idea the Scene cannot endorse—this newspaper generally favors doing whatever it takes to broaden participation in democracy. And why not? This country should be serious about making all who live here feel as if they have a stake in the country’s business. Nothing is more important than making this a nation where all citizens participate and have their say.

But doing so isn’t easy. After all, the efforts toward that goal have failed. Studies show that early voting, for instance, hasn’t done anything to increase turnout. Rather than bring new voters to the polls, it simply inspires regular voters to get it done and over with and avoid long lines on Election Day. Something dramatic is needed to get people to the polls, something that makes it easier, and more enjoyable, and something of a national responsibility, to vote.

Let’s make Election Day a holiday.

The idea isn’t ours—it’s been floating around for a while, and President Bill Clinton repeated the suggestion in an op-ed piece in The New York Times over the weekend. But it’s got a nice ring to it. We say go for it.

The day would become a national celebration: of the contest, of the issues, of the country. Making the day a holiday would allow people of all stripes and persuasions to get to the polls. At least people would have no excuse for not going to the polls.

Some people, primarily employers, would grumble that there are too many holidays already. We can sympathize with that argument. That’s why we suggest we start only with presidential elections. Thus, we’re talking about a holiday only once every four years. If it works, then we can think of ways to expand it.

So, start planning your barbecue for 2004.


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