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Of The People, By The People, For The People: The Case For Democracy Day

The push to make Election Day a holiday has finally reached the University of California. In an email sent earlier this week to all undergraduate students, ASUCI endorsed an ASUCI letter to the Regents of the University of California to make this year’s Election Day a non-instructional holiday. The letter currently has the support of over 1,400 signatures from UC faculty, campus organizations and students.

Making this year’s Election Day a holiday is a no-brainer. The COVID-19 pandemic and the undermining of the U.S. Postal Service, both of which were mentioned in the letter, bring great concern to the integrity of this election. However, the letter also encouraged some to think of the bigger picture: why in the world is Election Day not already a holiday? 

Currently, U.S. law designates 10 federal holidays. Among those, and arguably the most popular, is Independence Day, which falls on July 4. Why do we celebrate the Fourth of July, but not our right to vote, which was eventually granted to us by that independence we celebrate every year? As one of the oldest modern democracies on the planet, we need to lead by example. We do not need Election Day as a holiday only this year. We need it every year. We need Democracy Day.

Establishing a Democracy Day in the United States in early November is neither a new nor a radical idea. The Democracy Day Act was first introduced to the House of Representatives in 2005 by Rep. John Conyers, where it did not receive a vote and died two years later. It was reintroduced in 2014 and 2018, both times by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who believes a national holiday will make it easier for Americans to vote. Sanders is not the only politician to support a Democracy Day, as it has also received support from former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang and Democratic nominees Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, among others.

Creating a federal holiday for Election Day would likely increase voter turnout, according to a study by Brigham Young University. The study concludes that establishing Democracy Day is a solution for low voter turnout, which should be a major concern for all Americans. 

For a country that many consider the bedrock of democracy around the world, we do not practice democratic principles as much as others. We trail far behind other democracies, placing 26th out of 32 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) nations in voter turnout. Compared to countries like Slovakia, Mexico and Hungary, who are less known for their democratic principles, we rank embarrassingly low considering our reputation. 

Ensuring that everyone can participate in the democratic process is quite literally everything our country stands for. The right to vote is an inherently democratic ideal that screams freedom. It is extremely disappointing to hear that something as basic and necessary as an Election Day holiday is being politicized. On the Senate floor in early 2019, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell claimed that establishing a holiday on Election Day was a “power grab” by the Democratic Party and is “just what America needs, another paid holiday and a bunch of government workers being paid to go out and work … [on Democratic] campaigns.” 

For the first time in my life, I found myself agreeing with Sen. McConnell. Democracy Day is indeed what America needs, but not for any of the reasons he seemingly pulled out of thin air. What is the point of having a democracy if we are not able to celebrate it and participate in its democratic process? We expect too much from voters and low voter turnout is our due punishment. How do we expect a single mother who has to take her kids to school, go to work, pick them up from school on her lunch and then return to work, to vote? Or a student who is swamped with work and studying for midterms and other exams? These cases are similar to that of millions of Americans who are simply “too busy” to vote. How can we call ourselves a democracy if we do not do everything we can to ensure the voices of our citizens are heard? Democracy Day would likely mean business closures and non-instructional days for schools, allowing a significant majority of those time-constrained millions to vote with ease.

With constant attacks on our democracy occurring every day, some from President Trump himself, Democracy Day is one of the best chances we have of reminding the nation, and the world, of the democratic ideals that the U.S. stands for. At the end of his Gettysburg Address, President Abraham Lincoln described a government “of the people, by the people, for the people.” We constantly lie to ourselves in thinking that our nation is as great as he described. As long as we do not do everything we can to ensure everyone can vote, we never will be a true democracy. 

Moh Samhouri is an Opinion Intern for the 2020 fall quarter. He can be reached at samhourm@uci.edu