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TRAN: Ending Election Day on Tuesdays would strengthen American democracy

Column: Hung Up

To increase voter turnout, we must rethink when we hold elections.  – Photo by Sora Shimazaki / Pexels

Election Day just passed, and I would be shocked if anyone missed it. Scheduled for Tuesday in November every two years, campaigns run for weeks in the lead-up. The election gets promoted everywhere, from social media and constant (often un-skippable) YouTube advertisements to road posters and universities, such as the Rutgers emails and professors’ reminders you likely experienced.

And that is great: After all, voting is the backbone of democracy and determines the people’s influence on politics, which applies to everyone's daily life.

But the actual day of the week on which it takes place, Tuesdays, can be unnecessarily difficult and burdening, especially for the working class. In order to vote, you must go to the polling station, often wait in line and then commute back. Roughly speaking, the process may take half an hour to an hour, depending on a myriad of factors. That might seem fine. Sacrificing 30 minutes every two years sounds completely reasonable for something as important as elections.

Yet Election Day Tuesday is just like any other weekday. After a long day of work, many people might not have enough time or energy to go vote. Weekday traffic jams are nothing to joke about. This presents an unnecessary and unbalanced obstacle to voting. Those who have more flexible schedules or can afford to take time off from work can vote more freely, but those with less free time or who need to focus on work or school may decide to skip the polls entirely.

While it is true that early voting and mail-in ballots do help this issue, these options are not accessible to everyone. Early voting is not available in every state, and even in states where it is allowed, there might be restrictions or the need for an approved excuse in advance.

Furthermore, partly due to contrarians raising doubts about early voting’s integrity in the last election, states are even making the process more difficult compared to 2020 when it was popularized due to the pandemic and social isolation. This can include a shorter voting window or more strict identification requirements. Regardless, the majority of people still vote on Election Day.

A straightforward solution, then, might be making Election Day a national holiday, which would give people the entire day off to ensure they have time to vote. Many employers, though, can be quite finicky about time off and holidays, unless those holidays are Thanksgiving or Christmas. Similar variations in work demands may still exist. So, a more logical choice would be to move Election Day to the weekend.

This change would ensure as many citizens as possible would have the opportunity to make their voices heard. Some essential workers may still be unable to get time off to vote, but then the early and absentee ballots were designed with them in mind. Now, the issue of Election Day itself is dealing with a fraction of the number of affected people. The weekend or holiday would create a more level playing field, where going out to vote does not present nearly as many scheduling conflicts as having it take place on a Tuesday.

The U.S. would not be alone in doing so. Most of the rest of the world holds its elections on a Sunday. Of the 36 "advanced democracies," 27 hold their elections during the weekend, with two others having the day as a national holiday. Comparatively, in the U.S., only 13 states make Election Day a paid holiday for state workers.

The process of changing election day from Tuesday would not be overly complicated. Congress set Election Day to Tuesday for presidential elections in 1845 before applying that to the House in 1872 and to the Senate in 1914. It is not dictated by the Constitution and can easily be modified by acts of Congress — no amendment or Supreme Court dispute necessary.

Despite its supposed role as the worldwide figurehead of democracy, the U.S. still substantially lags in voter turnout. In 2020, the US had a voter turnout rate of 62.8 percent of the voting-age population, ranking 31st out of the 49 countries in the study. To make matters even worse, 2020 was a presidential election year, and an especially polarized one at that.

The midterm turnout rate peaked at 49 percent in 2018 and hit approximately 47 percent this year. Clearly, this is a far cry from being the forefront symbol of democracy. It goes without saying that just moving Election Day from Tuesday will not completely fix this issue, but it is a straightforward fix that makes the voting process at least a bit more accessible.

Voter turnout is essential to democracy and so should be made as painless as possible for anyone who might even consider voting. The U.S. has so many unnecessary barriers to supporting a full democracy. Some of them, like Election Day Tuesday, can be easily fixed. By simply moving election day to Saturday or Sunday, the country would be one step closer to a more politically active democracy.

Tyler Tran is a first-year in the School of Arts and Sciences majoring in Molecular Biology and Biochemistry and minoring in Economics. His column, "Hung Up," runs on alternative Fridays.

*Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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