WASHINGTON – More than 100 million Americans, accounting for more than a third of eligible voters, have cast early ballots before the Election Day and the record levels of voter enthusiasm across polling stations all over the U.S. on Tuesday presage historic overall turnout.
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, disinformation campaigns by foreign governments and apparently largely unfounded fears of Election Day polling place intimidation, voters cast ballots by mail, in person early and on Tuesday in record numbers.
But some have suggested that an easier way to ensure larger voter turnout is to make Election Day a federal holiday so no one is prevented from voting because work, school or other schedule issues do not prevent people from exercising their right to vote.
“Making voting easier and more accessible to the voters will boost turnout,” said Enrijeta Shino, a University of North Florida professor whose research focuses on institutional designs of elections. “Giving voters the time flexibility to vote on Election Day without worrying of missing a payday, is going to make people more likely to vote and at the same time more likely to volunteer and serve as poll workers.”
Election Day is a paid holiday in just 13 states, at least for state employees. Some employers like Twitter and Coca-Cola give employees the day off work.
Former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang called for Election Day to be a national holiday to “give people the chance to vote,” pointing out that too many Americans are unable to take time off from work as they depend on paycheck-to-paycheck or are hourly workers.
Another take on making it easier to go to the polls comes from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Twenty-seven of the 36 member countries, hold their elections on the weekend. The U.S. is one of only nine member nations that have weekday voting.
Even among the nine weekday voting countries, South Korea’s and Israel’s voters take a day off work on the day of the election to ensure higher electoral participation.
South Korea’s Election Day had been a temporary holiday since the founding of the government in 1948, only to be elevated as an official national holiday since 2006 with the amendment of the Public Official Election Act.
Culminated with automatic registration and a two-day early voting period where voters can cast their ballots at any polling station in the country without pre-registration, South Korea’s latest presidential election in 2017 recorded 77.9% turnout, a figure unseen in the U.S. since 1896.
Australia and Belgium have even gone further by adopting a mandatory voting system, resulting in consistently high turnouts. With penalties for not voting without a valid reason, Australia’s 2019 federal election delivered a turnout of whopping 91.89%, for example.
Making Election Day a federal holiday is not an out-of-the-blue concept in the U.S. as well. A 2018 Pew Research Center poll found bipartisan support for making Election Day a national holiday: 71% of Democrats and 59% of Republicans favored the idea, showing a degree of support from both sides of the aisle.
That cross-party approval did not translate well in Congress. In January 2019, House Democrats proposed the “Election Day Holiday Act of 2019,” which would treat Election Day in the same manner as a legal public holiday. The act failed to pass the House.