We have national holidays to celebrate influential historical figures and to commemorate the anniversaries of significant events, but what about a holiday that enables people to participate in one of our nation's most fundamental democratic processes? Voter turnout in the United States could be a lot higher, and part of the reason it's not may be that some people can't take time off work to get to the polls. HeadCount, an organization that aims to boost participation in democracy, began a Change.org petition to make election days national holidays so that work would no longer get in the way of voting.
Since 2000, voter turnout for presidential elections has hovered around 50 percent of the voting age population and 60 percent of the population that is eligible to vote, according to the U.S. Census Bureau and FairVote. Turnout is much lower for midterm elections, when there is no presidential race accompanying the election. Every two years, members of the House of Representatives and about a third of senators are elected (or re-elected); just over 35 percent of eligible voters showed up for the most recent midterm election in 2014. That's the lowest midterm turnout since 1942, according to FairVote.
The situation in the United States is put into context by comparing voter turnout here to rates in other countries. Pew Research Center looked at turnout rates for the 34 countries that are part of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (mostly democratic and "highly developed" countries), and found that the United States ranks 31st in voter turnout. Not impressive.
The Change.org petition to make election day a holiday is addressed to U.S. representatives, senators, and President Barack Obama. Signing is easy: Simply fill in your name, email address, and home address. You can also leave a comment expressing why you are signing if you so choose. You can opt to receive updates about the campaign, and Change.org makes it easy to share the petition on Facebook.
According to Juliet Lapidos at Slate, making election day a holiday wouldn't be breaking any molds. Lamenting low voter turnout back in 2008, she pointed out that several other countries, including France, Germany, Belgium, Austria, and India, hold elections on holidays or weekends. Since many people also work on weekends, the most effective move in the United States would be to declare the day a national holiday, so that non-traditional work schedules don't keep people from the polls.
Aside from potentially increasing voter turnout — certainly the most important goal — making election day a holiday just has a nice feel to it. The purpose of many holidays is to honor and to celebrate. Approaching our participation in the political process with such a spirit of celebration is appropriate.