Why Tuesday? The Case For Moving Election Day
Believe it or not, there's a question—and there aren't all that many—that unites President Barack Obama and his challenger Mitt Romney. It's one that has an absolutely infuriating answer. Here's the question: "Why do we vote on Tuesday in the United States?"
Obama and Romney are united not in their knowledge of the answer, but in being stumped by it. Obama, as a presidential candidate in 2007, told a Harvard College student it's because it was a decision made by the states. Romney, on the other hand, came right out and said "I have no idea."
So what is the answer? There's absolutely no good reason whatsoever. I am not joking. We vote on Tuesday because of a law meant to make voting convenient for those who traveled by horse-and-buggy and had to be back home in time for market day without traveling on days of religious observance. So by process of elimination, Tuesday it was.
Please take this time to pick your jaw up off of the floor. Yes, the answer is that stupid. You can watch my TED Talk for a little-bit-longer answer with a few wonkier details.
Today, despite early voting and voting-by-mail in most states, in 15 states you can only vote on Tuesday during the hours the polling place is open. So if you're a single mother or father, or work two or three jobs, or have long hours in school and you can't make it to your polling place... tough luck. This in a country whose voter turnout ranks 138th of 172 nations. Let me repeat: the world's most famous democracy has one of the world's worst voter turnouts.
Whether we move Election Day to the weekend or make it a National Holiday to increase turnout, or adopt convenience voting in all 50 states, something must be done to fix our terribly broken voting system. With rules that make it more difficult to vote, from voter ID, to purging, caging, felon disenfranchisement, and tricky registration regulations, the least we can do is vote on a day or in a way that makes voting accessible.
This has been a seven-year-long journey for me. In 2005, Ambassador Andrew Young, who fought along side Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, congressional scholar Norman Ornstein, and New York attorney William Wachtel, whose father also worked closely with Dr. King, started WhyTuesday.org to honor the 40 years that had passed since the passage of the VRA. What they didn't want to do, however, was throw a party when our voter turnout was so horrendous, so many decades after all of the barriers to the franchise had supposedly been removed.
When I joined their team in 2006, we hit the road with a video camera to ask "why Tuesday?" to any politician we could: from Senators John Kerry, Dick Lugar, Dianne Feinstein, and Rick Santorum, to U.S. current or former Representatives Darrell Issa, Nancy Pelosi, Newt Gingrich, and more. Very few knew the answer to the question, but most agreed we have to do something to change our horrendous voter turnout.
There have been bills, from Hillary Clinton's to make Election Day a national holiday, to Steve Israel's that would move Election Day to the weekend. But none have passed and for another not-so-good reason: if you were a member of Congress, would you change the rules of the game that allowed you to get your job? Probably not. But our Congress serves us, the voters and our democracy, not their job security. The onus is on our elected officials in Washington to change our Tuesday election day from where it has been for 167 years to make voting accesible for us all.
We are proud to be a part of GOOD's Take Back Tuesday. If our politicians aren't going to change the day we vote, we'll stand together, united, and do everything we can to make sure the private citizens and businesses of our nation throws one hell of a party on the day that is, ironically, the one our elected officials live and breathe for: Election Day.