GW gave us Election Day off. Let’s go one step further.
About 117 million registered voters did not vote in 2016, according to a Vice poll conducted after the presidential election. That’s the lowest voter turnout since 1996. But what’s more concerning are the reasons people provided for not voting. Some said they disliked both candidates, others said they felt like their vote did not matter and some said they didn’t have enough time to get to the polls.
Voting is the cornerstone of our democracy – we should never feel like our vote does not matter or that we don’t have time to exercise this basic right. We must celebrate voting and do everything in our power to get as many Americans to the polls as possible. Now that students have successfully pushed for the University to cancel synchronous classes on Election Day, we must expand our efforts to advocate for Election Day to be a national holiday.
The ability to vote is currently a privilege – those who face the longest lines at the polls are minority and low-income voters. In recent years, thousands of polling sites have closed across the South, making lines even longer at existing locations. Not to mention, Latino voters face 46 percent longer wait times compared to White voters, and Black voters face 45 percent longer wait times. We know it is already more difficult for minority voters to get to a booth, and we must do everything we can to increase access to voting. That starts with making Election Day a national holiday.
In addition to voter suppression, the longest voting lines often form in the early morning and just after 5 p.m., making it more difficult to vote for everyday Americans who have to work. Making Election Day a national holiday would give those who typically work the day off and ensure they have enough time in the day to vote. And for those who absolutely need to work that day, the line might at least be shorter.
Making Election Day a holiday will not only make it easier for millions of Americans to vote, but it would mark a celebration of participating in our democracy. Elections are on Tuesdays because in 1845, Congress decided that the Tuesday after the first Monday of November would be most convenient for farmers around the country. Most of us are not farmers in 2020, but we should all be able to celebrate this basic right as an American just as people did in 1845. Turning Election Day into a national holiday would instill a sense of pride in all citizens, knowing they have the ability to cast a ballot regardless of work.
We also know that 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 percent, significantly higher than America’s 60 percent turnout in 2016. Other countries with a relatively high voter turnout that mark their election days as national holidays include South Korea, with a turnout of 78 percent, and Israel, with a turnout of 76 percent. And let’s not leave out nations like New Zealand, Finland and Hungary, where election day is on Saturday or Sunday, that boast turnout rates of more than 70 percent.
For now, students must do everything they can to push for this change in the United States. Students can write to their local leaders, launch petitions or demonstrate support for congresspeople like Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., or Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, who support making Election Day a federal celebration and have made it a holiday in the commonwealth, respectively. These politicians understand that voting is not a true right so long as all people do not have access to the polls.
Yes, big changes in the District always take a long time. Yes, it can be discouraging to have to choose the better of two evils. Yes, it could be easier to just tune everything out. But do not become apathetic. Push your politicians to allow everyone to celebrate the right to vote and participate in our democracy. Do not underestimate the impact we, as students, can have on public policy and keep advocating for bigger and bigger policy changes.
Declan Duggan, a freshman majoring in international affairs, is an opinions writer.