A speck of blue in a sea of red, Sandusky, Ohio is an urban center of about 25,000 people. On Jan. 28, this small town made the not-so-small decision to swap out Columbus Day for Election Day as a paid holiday. With this relatively simple, but first-of-its-kind change, Sandusky has reminded us that we must use whatever political power we have to enact important policy from the ground up.
Undeniably, the United States has a voting problem. The 2018 midterm elections saw the largest voter turnout in a midterm election since 1914 but, even so, only a little more than 50 percent of eligible voters participated. According to Pew Research, the U.S. trails behind most developed countries in voter turnout. While there are a myriad of causes leading to the United States’ low civic participation, including voter suppression, polling location problems and gerrymandering, one major political party is trying to improve elections in our country. Earlier this year, House Democrats introduced H.R. 1 — a sweeping overhaul to improve elections, campaign finance and ethics rules — which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., subsequently denounced on the Senate floor as a Democratic Party “power grab.”
Although the Republican Party may oppose reform, increasing voter turnout should be at the forefront of our minds. One important element of that is making Election Day a paid holiday — and studies show that it would work. We know that not being able to get time off work is an oft-cited reason for failing to vote, something a paid holiday would fix. Aside from that, voting, in general, is just something to be celebrated. In fact, our nation once had a commitment to taking the day off to vote and to regard the process of voting as the gift it is.
Evidently, there are multiple reasons as to why we need to increase voter turnout. As such, we as voters should demand that our government work for us, including passing legislation that will allow us to more actively participate in our democracy. Those elected officials who consider the act of voting to be partisan are afraid of voters and should question the legitimacy of their position. Sandusky is leading by example on what we all ought to be doing: using whatever levers of power we have to implement the critical policies necessary to establish a more accessible democracy.
There is currently a patchwork of laws across states that require businesses to allow their employees to take time off to vote without being paid. This means that while citizens will be allowed to leave work in order to vote, the people who cannot afford to take that unpaid time off are left disenfranchised. As a result, some businesses have started to give their employees the day off for election day; however, I am tired of depending on the generosity of businesses to give their employees what should be mandated by law. Local governments should be leading on this change.
Thirteen states have already made Election Day a state holiday, but where it hasn’t happened on a state level, we can start more locally. We saw in the midterms how successful grassroots organization can be, and I see no reason why we can’t continue to organize around important policies. Sandusky is a perfect example of how, even though the GOP doesn’t want to increase turnout, Democrats can still work to enact meaningful policy on a local level.
An Election Day holiday may or may not significantly increase turnout in the United States, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try — especially since most wealthy democracies hold their elections on either a weekend or holiday. With the goal to think global and act local, we can start on a local level to increase the fairness in our elections and begin to turn the tide of the extremely low voter turnout throughout the U.S.
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Email Nathan Maue at [email protected]