While there have been a few states holding primaries and caucuses on weekends this electoral season, the United States remains largely a nation of Tuesday voting. (Yeah, I know, it’s also a country that remains stubbornly out of step with the vast majority of the world on its system of measurement and the way it writes dates as well – but let’s save those issues for another time.) Tuesday? Really? That’s the day you want to mandate for a collective effort, something that we want as many Americans as possible to take part in? What about, oh, day jobs and classes? How did this lunacy come about?
Well, it wasn’t considered lunacy back in 1845, when the US was primarily an agrarian nation, and farmers and the like needed a day to travel to their often distant polling places. Monday became that travel day because, well, traveling on Sunday meant you missed church. Well, you know what? That was 1845. We don’t ride in horse-drawn carriages any more, and we even use flush toilets. We ain’t agrarian anymore, and if you want people to really turn out and vote, move our voting day to Sunday!!
For almost 20 years I have been a part of, or affiliated with campaigns called “Choose Or Lose,” “Rock the Vote,” and “Vote Or Die,” all with effectively the same goal: increasing voter turnout among young people. Every indication suggests they are more energized than ever this year (thanks obviously in large part to Obama), and the optimists say we’re going to see a record turnout on Tuesday, November 4th. Maybe. I hope they’re right. But I can tell you this: Whatever the turnout, I promise you it would be greater if the election was taking place on Sunday, November 2nd. I can also promise you that no matter how “record-setting” it is, it will still be a voter turnout well behind that of most Western democracies. Even if you discount those countries where voting is compulsory (a modest proposal that would never fly here) the US lags consistently well back of its democratic pals. On what day of the week do they vote? Dimanche. Domingo. Sonntag.
The single most commonly cited reason by Americans for “not voting” is being “too busy.” So let’s see…how to overcome that? How about voting on a day when the vast majority of them don’t have to be in work or class? I know, there are plenty of Americans who do have to work on Sunday –- but there is no question that it is the day on which the fewest can claim they are “too busy.” Common sense. But so far, common sense has lost out to –- what? Tradition?
So what’s it going to be, USA? Do we really want to increase voter turnout in this country, or just pay lip service to it? Consider all the other modifications to our electoral process you want –- online, mail-in, whatever works. But start by moving Election Day.