With the presidential election coming up this Tuesday, I find myself asking, why the heck do we vote on a Tuesday?
The answer, as CNN showed, is we passed a law in 1845 to vote on the first Tuesday in November to accommodate people traveling by horse and buggy. That’s right: We vote on Tuesday for the horse and buggy crowd. You see, in 1845 voting could take two days, one to get to the poll and another to get back, hopefully in time for market day Wednesday. With travel on the Christian Sabbath out of the question, Tuesday was the first available day to vote. That’s it.
Now if voter turnout in this country was robust, a bit of antiquated law wouldn’t be a big deal. However, turnout is anything but robust. What is supposed to be the standard of democracy in the world ranks 93rd out of 113 democracies in voter turnout, according to the Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance.
So, we have a law that no longer applies to anyone and a voter-turnout problem. Why not do something about it? Sure, the inconvenience of voting on a workday is not the only reason we have a low turnout in this country, but it certainly is a tangible reason that could be changed with very little effort.
Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., and Rep. John Larson, D-Conn., have proposed legislation that would move the election from the first Tuesday in November to the first weekend in November. In a press release, Israel said, “Voting should be easy and accessible,” and Larson said, “It’s time we stop making people choose between their responsibility to vote, and meeting their everyday obligations.”
One specific issue the release also pointed out is, “Only 47 percent of eligible voters actually voted in the United States. In Italy, where voting takes place on the weekends, 92 percent of eligible voters voted.”
It makes sense to me: Instead of an election day peppered with the inevitable stories about long lines at the polling place, create a much larger window for people to vote in.
I know President Barack Obama recently voted early, the first time a sitting president has done so, and absentee voting in Wisconsin has already surpassed 400,000, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. That option, which is not available in every state, is helpful, but it misses the crux of the issue. We are a busy culture, we work long hours and, obviously, this election cycle has been about jobs, jobs and jobs. So I don’t think it is too much to ask Congress to recognize Tuesday is about the most inconvenient day for the country to vote and for them to actually do something about it.
I mean really, think about some of our national holidays: Would it be that crazy to give everyone the day off, like Alverno College is doing, to go and exercise your most important civic responsibility?
There was much talk about “protecting the system” when legislators were trying to sell the voter ID bill, and I think it is time for the people to say, “You want to protect my vote, how about providing me with some time to do it?”
Get out there and vote on Tuesday any way you can. For those of you with two jobs and two kids to move around who might not have the time, just call out of work Monday and Tuesday, hitch up the old horse and buggy and vote like its 1845.
John Waters (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a junior majoring in journalism.