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The Case For  A New National Holiday: Election Day

Here’s what a day off could mean for voter turnout

As the leading democracy in the world, the United States trails most developed economies in terms of voter turnout. To put it bluntly, U.S. voter participation is pitiful.

According to the Pew Research Center, a mere 65 percent of the voting-age population in the United States was registered to vote in 2012, which is laughable compared to Canada’s 91 percent. Even worse, only around half of eligible voters even bothered voting in the last presidential election. Voting for midterm congressional elections is too sad to even mention here (though if you want to know click here).

Why voter turnout in the United States is so low has been the subject of many political science dissertations, yet the reasons are likely quite straightforward: Voting is a pain in the butt.

The common sentiment that one’s vote won’t actually change anything, combined with the hassle of registering and casting a ballot (in addition to the widespread disdain for politics), makes it easy to see why so many don’t vote.

One suggestion to make voting easier, particularly for working people, is making Election Day a national holiday. The idea has been floated countless times, and with the presidential election looming in November, the issue has been raised once again after some tech companies publicly shared that they intend on letting employees play hooky to go vote.

The Washington Post reports that 300 tech companies from the Bay Area and beyond are trying to encourage employees to vote. But should it be up to the employer or should everyone have the opportunity to take the day off to perform their civic duty?

Jim Pugh, founder of the political data firm ShareProgress, shared with The Post:

"It creates pressure across the board for more companies to do that in places where their employees maybe aren't as likely to vote. The more we can have this be a norm within the corporate space, the more it's going to push good civic corporate behavior."

Many large democracies have already declared holidays during elections: Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, India, New Zealand. All those countries have higher voter turnout in national elections than the United States. Perhaps that’s due to some other factor, but maybe it is as simple as having the day off.

Bernie Sanders is a strong supporter of making Election Day a national holiday. In an op-ed piece in The Guardian in November 2014, Sanders wrote that when Congress got back to work that year, he would enact a law calling for a “Democracy Day” that would make Election Day a holiday.

He wrote, “This would by no means be a cure-all for increasing turnout, but it would mark one important step to increase participation and create the kind of political system that the world can look upon as an example, not a failure.” Ultimately, the bill failed but the question lingers. Would a national holiday increase voter turnout?

The likely answer is yes. But there’s only one way to find out.

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