My Tuesday routine started on Nov. 5 the same as it always does: I go to the gym, eat breakfast, and then go to work all day. During a small break in the day, I decided to check Facebook and found one of my friends posted a link to the online poll finder website. I was confused since the presidential election isn’t until next year, until it hit me. That Tuesday was municipal election day.
I hadn’t even realized that it was Election Day because I was so focused on my daily life and all of the commitments within. Once I realized that it was the last day to vote in the municipal elections for Wake County and N.C., it was too late, because I was at work with classes scheduled late into the evening, past the 7:30 p.m. closing time for most voting centers.
My immediate thought was, “We need to have a public holiday for Election Day so more people can vote!” Yet on closer inspection, I found out that there were more factors that contribute to low voter turnouts than just work. It's truly not as easy as just making Election Day a public holiday.
First, U.S. election turnout is poor across the board, whether be for general, primary or presidential elections. Compared to other nations, we rank low in our registered voters, with just 55.7% of the voting-age population actually voting in 2016 and specifically in North Carolina 49.7% turnout rate in the 2018 general election. Even worse, in municipal elections only roughly 27% of eligible voters vote. Therefore, with copious amounts of data explicitly showing our low turnout rates, there needs to be reform for Election Day.
The idea of a public holiday sounds great in theory and has been presented through a bill multiple times, with the most recent being Sen. Bernie Sanders in 2015. Sanders states that “We should not be satisfied with a ‘democracy’ in which more than 60 percent of our people don't vote and some 80 percent of young people and low-income Americans fail to vote.” Even though both of his statistics are correct and the first being valid to his claim for “Democracy Day,” the high percentage of young people and low-income Americans not voting is not solely due to a busy work schedule.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 35% of nonvoters from households with an income higher than $150,000 said in a survey they do not vote due to a busy schedule, whereas the percentage is 25% for households within the bracket of making less than $40,000. This is the second major reason for not voting, as cited by these eligible voters in lower socioeconomic strata, with the first being due to illness, disability or transportation to the polls posing an issue. Hence, making a public holiday will help benefit a group of people across various income brackets, but isn’t the blanket solution to help low-income households make it to the polls.
On the other hand, people working in retail, restaurants or hospitals won’t have the luxury of the day off even if it is a public holiday. So, how do you help these people out in addition to those who are suffering from an illness, a person with a disability or someone who does not have access to transportation? Yes, early voting exists and gives everyone a large period of time to try and plan to go to a voting center, but even this is difficult with busy schedules and other confounding variables.
It seems that something in combination with a day off or half day off from work will supplement and increase the access to voting. A specific example is what has already started in some states, which is the ability of voters to vote by mail over a period of a few days. In combination, these two can work to increase voting numbers while remaining accessible to even more populations.
Election Day needs an improvement to increase voter turnout, especially for municipal elections. With populations belonging to both Republican and Democratic parties being affected, this topic should be a bipartisan issue, with both sides actively working to find solutions. Although it’s not as easy as just declaring the day as a public holiday, some variation of that in combination with other systems could increase accessibility for everyone. Hopefully by next year, for the 2020 elections, no one will go through their first Tuesday of November routine forgetting their civic duty to vote.