Globe’s Point: Election Day should be a special federal holiday

The election is all anyone can talk about. From what went wrong to what went right, analysts will continue to pour over the data for years to come. And the buzzwords of this election—“vote like your life depends on it” and “record turnout”—have defined much of these conversations prior to and following the election. 

But realistically, high voter turnout will never mean the entirety of the American public is heard and represented. Disregarding the fact that those under 18 have no option to vote, there are still many who will not, for whatever reason, vote in elections. Some of that reasoning may be based in distrust in our democratic systems, but there are also many institutional, systemic barriers barring a significant amount of the of-age voter population from voting. 

One of those is just a scheduling problem. Election Day is a Tuesday, you know, one of the five days of the workweek that most American workers’ lives revolve around. From the onset, this disincentives people from voting—they wonder how they will possibly have enough time to vote. Sure, the polls may stay open till 8 p.m. in Pennsylvania, but there are states like Indiana and Kentucky, where some areas close their polls at just 6 p.m., around when many workers end their shifts. Even in a state where the polls stay open later, voters have to figure out transportation, childcare and other issues in a matter of hours. For some, understandably, it’s just not feasible to make voting work for them. 

Pioneers, you may ask: why not just take Election Day off as an individual employee? However, the people who face the most obstacles to voting are the ones whose livelihoods depend on them consistently showing up for work. They cannot afford to call off to vote at a polling place. Numbers will tell, but mail-in ballots have resolved some of the problems associated with the rigid one-day schedule that in-person voting demands, but there will still undoubtedly be people who do not vote. 

The real way to see drastic numbers for voter turnout is to make sweeping changes. We’re not advocating for a mandatory voting rule as Australia has, but it’s very simple: make Election Day a federal holiday. A special federal holiday, at that. One that allows anyone in a non-essential position to have the day off to vote and be able to engage in our democracy without worrying whether they have time to. For essential workers, they could work a half-day, and with those shifts staggered among employees, they would all have an opportunity to vote. 

It is one of the greatest hypocrisies of our country that our leaders claim that our elections are fair, when in reality the system is rigged against many Americans from even participating in that system. And if we don’t change things, our legislators, our executives, our judges will continue to represent the entirety of the country without the entirety of their votes.