Elections Should Be National Holidays

It’s Election Day–the day the nation decides on who the new president will be. You’re stressed because, of course, it’s a Tuesday, and you either have school or work. You get to the voting location and there’s a huge line, even though the polls don’t open for another hour. If you’re old enough to vote, you’ll recognize this feeling, and if you’re not, you will one day. 

Even though it’s a fundamental right of every American, most people feel guilty if they miss their obligations to vote and end up going at a worse time and waiting in long lines to vote. Every American deserves not to feel guilty for practicing their rights and voting, no matter what they’re missing. This is why I believe Presidential Election Day should be a national holiday.

You might be thinking, Isn’t there already a law that requires employers to give their employees time off to vote? Well, yes and no: this law varies state-by-state, and in some states, there is no paid time off to vote. 

According to ballotpedia.org, Pennsylvania is one of the states where employers are not required to give time off to employees.

Even in states where it is required to give employees time off, this still requires that employees request that time off to vote. It’s easier to give the people the whole day off rather than deal with the logistics of it on a case-by-case basis.

In 2016 only 58.1% of our voting-eligible population voted. The fact that so many people didn’t vote proves that we need to provide the time necessary to let every American vote. It’s our constitutional right. 

Also, a 2017 Pew study found that nearly 16% of registered voters who did not vote in the 2016 election reported that they did not cast a ballot because of being too busy, a conflicting schedule, or inconvenient hours at polling places.

So, let’s say you’re voting in our state, and you decide to go to vote before or after work. Well, according to The GW Hatchet, the longest voting line often forms in the early morning and just after 5 p.m., the time most people are able to vote because of work. 

If you’re like Journalism teacher Sarah Buttiens, you would go after work, which is just what she did. “I took my son with me and we went after work; it took us about an hour.” So sometimes even if you go after work, it can still take a long time.

According to Stewartstown residents Lesley and Coleman Hamilton, who voted together, it took them approximately two hours to wait in line and vote with more than 100 people there waiting, too. They went around 8 a.m. when the polls opened, a time when most people have to be at work or in classes.

Clearly, the people who live around here can attest to the lines being long, and we don’t even live in a highly-populated area. Now, imagine those lines in towns with more than 5,000 people.

Let’s consider some data from countries that actually enacted an Election Day holiday. The countries that have marked their election days as federal events see higher voting turnouts than the United States. Puerto Rico’s voter turnout has gone as high as 80%, a serious accomplishment compared to America’s 60% turnout in 2016. 

Other countries with a significantly high voter turnout that declared their election days as national holidays include South Korea, with a turnout of 78%, and Israel, with a turnout of 76%. 

Many front-line workers do not get federal holidays off and likely would not get Election Day off even if it is a national holiday. This is true, but imagine how much shorter the lines will be for them to vote, if those who have off can vote during the afternoon hours.

Voting in elections is a given right when you are an American, or at least that’s what we’ve always said. However, when we look at the numbers for voter turnouts and consider how many people are unable to vote due to their job, it is clear that this is not the case for everyone. 

Every American deserves to not feel guilty for practicing their fundamental rights and missing work or school to do so.

There is a clear and realistic solution for the government: name Election Day as a national holiday. 

But we don’t have to just hope that this magically happens, we can write to our local leaders, launch petitions or show support for congress people like Senator Bernie Sanders  or Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, who support making Election Day a federal holiday and have already made it a holiday in their respective commonwealths. These politicians understand that the birth-given right of voting is not truly practiced or fair so long as all people do not have equal access to the polls.

If you want to write to our Pennsylvania political candidates, you can find a list of our senators and representatives with links to their official websites / addresses here