Australia, Italy, Germany. When one thinks of the origins of democracy, these countries do not come to mind, yet they have more than 80 percent of the eligible voters in their countries participating in the electoral process. Modern democracy, we Americans think, has its roots in the founding of the United States. For a country that values the freedom to choose in all its rhetoric, how is it that Israel has a higher voter turnout than America?
The origins of the American tradition to vote on the Tuesday after the first Monday of November was a product of practicality. November was chosen in 1845 because it came after harvests. Tuesday was to allow voting citizens time to make an overnight commute to the polling place without cutting into their Sunday church time. Nov. 1 was excluded as a possible date to hold elections because of a coinciding Roman Catholic holiday (so much for separation of church and state).
The way we vote is not the only thing to have changed since 1845. Since then, suffrage has been expanded to include African-Americans, women and even 18-year-olds. While increasing the voter base, voting levels have dropped from 79 percent in 1896 to just 51 percent in 2000.
In a day and age where technology allows one person to reach another on the other side of the world in real time, the problems of old are irrelevant to the voting process. Encouraging people to vote could be done by merging Election Day with Veterans Day. The U.S. Census Bureau conducted a survey shortly after the 2000 election and discovered that the biggest reason for not voting was schedule conflicts with work or school. This doesn’t take into account the people who barely managed to squeeze voting into their tight schedule. Voting is a civil liberty that should not be difficult for citizens to practice. Coinciding democracy’s greatest privilege with a national holiday would also increase public awareness of the upcoming day to vote and open many more public buildings to use as voting facilities as well as free up people to man those stations.
Instead of making voting an obligatory civic duty, giving citizens the day off would allow the creation of a new Election Day filled with traditions. Similar to Veterans Day, Americans would spend the day holding barbeques, watching baseball games and of course voting. A day off would give even the most ignorant of Americans a simple understanding of Election Day and encourage them to use the day to prepare to vote.
The combination of Veterans Day and Election Day would ameliorate any economic impact that national holidays typically have toward the economy with businesses closing for the day.
So why has the creation of a new Election Day federal holiday stalled in Congress? Ironically, an increase in voters is part of the issue. With all their rhetoric on voting, politicians do not want everyone to vote