Why isn't Election Day a federal holiday in the US?

  • Inspired by this question

    The United States has low levels of voter turnout as compared to other developed democracies. As seen in the above question, low-income individuals are less likely to vote than their higher-income counterparts.

    Given that low-income individuals are the most likely to not vote largely because they need to work - often being paid hourly and needing the money more desperately than others, and that low-income individuals are more likely to be Democrats than Republicans, why hasn't a democratic politician spearheaded this effort that could see increased turnout from their base? I understand that perhaps for purely political reasons a Republican wouldn't want to champion this and risk higher turnout in demographics they don't necessarily have support from, but for a Democrat this seems like something that would be easy to make a case for and would enjoy popular support from the nation.

    What arguments have been posed for and against Election Day being a holiday, and is there a partisan split in the debate (if any)?

    I realize that some federal holidays generally entail most people having the full day off or at least reduced hours, such as Christmas Day, while others such as Columbus Day go largely unnoticed. I would assume the Election Day holiday would be more like the former than the latter

    What do you think the effect is when the government makes something a federal holiday?

    Do you think the targeted population would get the day off if it were a federal holiday? Do fast food restaurants, malls, and the like close for Federal holidays?

    I realize that some federal holidays generally entail most people having the full day off or at least reduced hours, such as Christmas Day, while others such as Columbus Day go largely unnoticed. I would assume the Election Day holiday would be more like the former than the latter

    I suggest that the non-voting because of work hypothesis is not valid, since (in many states) one can use early voting, mail-in ballots, or other methods to avoid having to trek to a polling place on election day. And in fact in my state, over twice as many people did in the last election: http://silverstateelection.com/vote-turnout/ Indeed, I'd suggest any correlation is the other way around: poverty and non-voting are often the long-term result of the same set of attitudes & behaviors.

    I'm surprise this isn't close as opinion based. Why is higher voter turn-out better? And the answer isn't: "Other developed countries have higher voter turnout" Except for an extremely small percentage of the population, those who want to vote, can.

    @DrunkCynic You make a good point. But note that Election Day falls on a Tuesday based on the need for farmers to have enough time to get from their farms to polling stations in towns and cities. This logic was based on the needs of Americans in 1845 and still persists to this day. This is not a Republican issue nor is it a Democratic issue, but it is an example of how the system does not work in the modern world. Making Election Day a holiday—or just have it happen over a weekend—would be a forward thinking thing.

    @JakeGould: On the contrary. First, tying people to a specific day or place is backwards thinking. Second, if you fix election day on a weekend and disallow early or mail-in ballots, you are likely to have fewer people willing to take time to travel to a polling place. Work is only 8 or 10 hours a day for most people, leaving plenty of time to go to their polling place if they want. But weekends are all day, and not as many are likely to surrender their recreation time.

    Turnout in recent US presidential elections has been in the low-to-mid-fifties. Turnout in recent UK general elections has been in the low-to-mid-sixties. Both are on weekdays, both are not holidays. This suggests that not being a holiday isn't the only reason for low turnout.

    In Germany elections are on sundays.

    Only federal employees get federal holidays off. For states and private companies, it is up to them.

    @CodesInChaos in Belgium too

    I live in a non-swing state. If election day were a holiday, I'd be traveling that weekend. To somewhere warm, or to visit family. The aircrew that'd help me get there would still be working that day.

    @DavidRicherby US presidential election turnout (of people actually eligible to vote, not just people of age) floats around 60%

    Would it help if polling stations opened for longer hours? From what I've read most US states close their polls at 7.00pm. That must make it very difficult for a lot of working people to vote. In Britain, at General Elections the polling stations open from 7.00am until 10.00pm. And we do get significantly higher turnouts (nearly 70% at the 2017 General Election) than is the case in America - although they are not as high as they once were. Elections are always on a Thursday, and are not a public holiday.

    "Why is higher voter turn-out better?" ...seriously, Frank? Increased participation in _a participatory democracy_ is self-evidently better than less participation. That's not "opinion-based", that's the whole freaking point of having citizen voting in the first place.

    If I were an American, I would probably not vote either. Not because of the inconvenience of it being a working day and the polls closing at a particular hour, but because I rarely see any candidate worth voting for in the US system (from either party). Perhaps if candidates focused on positive messages about themselves, rather than negative messages about the other guy, that would motivate more people to turn up?

  • The reason is simple: There isn't enough support in the US Congress to make Election Day a federal holiday.

    Democracy Day

    Democracy Day is the tentative name of a possible federal holiday in the United States, proposed by Democratic Representative John Conyers of Michigan.

    The bill was referred to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform in January 2005 and ultimately had 110 co-sponsors. The bill has since lapsed and would need to be reintroduced before the proposal could be reconsidered.

    A companion resolution was introduced in the Senate on May 26, 2005 by Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan. It was co-sponsored by Democratic Senators Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Carl Levin of Michigan. The companion resolution did not leave the Senate Committee on the Judiciary and has now also lapsed.

    The bill was recently reintroduced on Nov. 12, 2014 by independent Senator Bernie Sanders. It has not been enacted.


    Why the lack of support?

    Here are several possible reasons:

    • "It would be like trying to pass a constitutional amendment," said Michele Swers, a professor of American government at Georgetown University. The last event to become a federal holiday was Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday back in 1986. 1

    • Aside from congressional hurdles, companies are likely resistant to adding another holiday to their work schedule. "If you’re going to make it a federal holiday, that’s basically forcing companies to give workers additional vacation time, so that’s going to cost them money and productivity,” Swers said." 1

    • Then there’s the idea of holding Election Day on a weekend, something government officials determined is a costly alternative, according to a study from the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) assessing the cost of a two-day voting weekend. For security alone, officials estimated the extra cost time overseeing ballots would range from about $100,000 [in one jurisdiction] to as much as $400,000 [in another jurisdiction].1

    Another argument against the weekend might be that it conflicts with the Sabbath. If voting is on Friday or Saturday, many Jews may not be able to vote. If voting is on a Sunday, many church-goers may object.

    Then there are the many businesses that remain open on federal holidays:

    • [Proponents of making Election Day a federal holiday haven't] paid a lot of attention to what actually happens on most federal holidays. Big businesses like banks and the white collar jobs at pharmaceutical companies shut down, and all the employees get a day off with pay. Schools and universities shut down, giving teachers and professors time to vote.

      But you know what doesn't shut down for federal holidays? Retail. Restaurants. Hospitals. Smaller businesses that can't afford to lose a day of revenue, and if they do, they certainly can't afford to pay people for the time off.

      What does that mean? If you make election day a federal holiday, you'll have all the people who work in these types of jobs still having to work, being inundated with customers who have the day off and they won't have child care because the schools will be closed. Some businesses may close, but their hourly paid employees will either have to use a PTO day or not get paid.

      Now, if you just want white collar people to vote, by all means, make it more difficult for blue collar people by removing their child care, and increasing their work hours because companies will take advantage of the holiday to run sales and promotions.2

    Then there's data from the US Census, which suggests that an election day holiday would not increase participation for lower-income voters:

    • The question of who would benefit from an Election Day holiday is further complicated by looking more closely at the Census Bureau’s data on nonvoters.

      In 2014, registered voters from households making more than $150,000 a year were the most likely to say they were too busy to head to the polls — more than 35 percent of them claimed so, while none of the income brackets less than $40,000 had more than 25 percent of respondents report they were too busy.

      Unsurprisingly, lower-income nonvoters are more likely than wealthier nonvoters to cite illness and disability or trouble getting to the polls as problems. Wealthier nonvoters, less impeded by these kinds of challenges, say they have mostly their schedules to blame.

      Given this, an Election Day holiday would remove a significant barrier to participation for relatively well-to-do potential voters while doing little to make voting easier for a significant number of less privileged ones.3

    1 Why Election Day isn’t a federal holiday

    2 No, Election Day Should Not Be a Federal Holiday

    3 Maybe Making Election Day a National Holiday Wouldn’t Really Work

    "If voting is on a Sunday, many church-goers may object." ... that is unimaginable in Germany (where are elections are done on Sundays). You are not in church for the full day, are you? (I guess it is annoying for the people who have to staff the security measures, but you could do shifts there.)

    For millions of Americans, Sunday is a day of rest, family and/or church. (Not to mention football.) I don't see a proposal for Sunday elections going very far. Apparently, it's different in Germany. I suspect in Israel and many other countries, as well.

    It is similar here. (Though the church part depends a bit on the religiosity of the people in question – there are quite some who still adhere to it, and others much less.) That still doesn't mean you can't include a trip to the voting station when it is voting day (usually at most three times every 4 years or such, at different schedules for the different levels and lower levels depending on state). You can even make it a family trip (all the grown up's vote, and the children can get a look at the procedere).

    Elections are held on Sundays in Poland as well, where church-going-lobby is much stronger than in Germany.

    BTW, Sunday elections work in favour of church-goers. First, they have to leave homes anyway, so they could vote on their way back from church, so turnaround is higher amongst church-goers. Second, Sunday service might nudge voters inot options more favourable to other church-goers (it's illegal because of there's election silence but who's gonna go after clergy?).

    Sunday is a day of rest in Germany. Only priests have the right to work. Other people (restaurants, tourist stuff) have exceptions. To open a polling station on Sunday is quite an effort, with permits, renting the public room, organising payment for staff, but obviously we think it's worth it - to give everyone a chance to vote.

    "For security alone, officials estimated the extra cost time overseeing ballots would range from about $100,000 to as much as $400,000" which sounds impressive until you realize that counties and municipalities spent about 1 billion during the year 2000 on elections. Now I'm not sure what percentage of that was for the presidential election but those extra $400,000 are a drop in the bucket.

    @Voo, yes, I noticed that amount was tiny and was planning to look into it later. If you read the report which is hyperlinked in the paragraph you referenced, it says those amounts ($100,000 & $400,000) apply to just one jurisdiction each (see pages 27-28). I've updated my answer.

    According to this study there are 7858 voting jurisdictions in the US. $100k-$400k each comes out to $786M-$3.14B. I'd say it's safe to assume this proposal would at least double the cost of running an election.

    Those figures are each specific to two different jurisdictions. I wouldn't extrapolate that data to form any sort of pattern. But your point that a massive increase in election costs would occur seems sensible to me.

    Yes, the lack of support in the US Congress is a better explanation than the loss of productivity. If the latter would be really the reason not to make a federal holiday, then US would not have any federal holiday at all.

    There is no politics in this answer. Don't you think the first consideration of any Congressperson is whether holding elections on a holiday will increase or decrease their chance of reelection? It's no coincidence that Democrats tend to be in favor and Republicans tend to be opposed to it.

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Content dated before 7/24/2021 11:53 AM