If it is true that Americans take a great deal of pride in their nation’s democracy, it is very sad to see U.S. elections in their current incarnation. Low voter turnout continues to plague our own local, state and national elections and apathy is often the defining characteristic of Election Day. Voter apathy is a serious problem with serious implications for the U.S. system of government. It is difficult to take seriously claims of an election creating a “mandate from the people,” when less than 50 percent of eligible voters generally show up on election day.
Voter apathy is a huge part of the problem. Citizens simply don’t care about casting votes. Election Day in the United States used to be more than just voting – it used to be a celebration. Now, especially after the failures of the 2000 presidential election, there has never been more cynicism surrounding the electoral process. But the problem does not lie in voter apathy alone. Polls can sometimes be hard to reach for voters with long or irregular work schedules.
It seems the United States has a fundamental problem with its elections. Too often, voters either do not feel the need to cast their votes or simply can’t make it to the polls even if they wanted to. Recently, however, there seems to have been a mild resurgence in Washington of support for making national elections a holiday. Even Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Lansing), in a recent Detroit Free Press article, supports setting aside election day as a national holiday. Her efforts should be encouraged among our other representatives.
Doing so would have a number of positive effects. It would free up space to house polling sites, due to the number of buildings closed that day. Turnout would increase, as workers on their day off would have a hard time justifying not voting. Additionally, there are a number of complications to voting, especially to those not fortunate enough to hold traditional nine-to-five jobs. Many do not, and among these voters, it can become difficult to find the time to vote. Giving these people the day off would allow them the ability to vote without undue hassle or complication.
Most importantly, Election Day should be an important day to all U.S. citizens. Indoctrinating Americans with the significance of Election Day is essential, and one way to do that is to set it apart with holiday status. Let people have the day off and celebrate, rather than be burdened or hassled with the act of casting their vote. Doing so will help resurrect support and participation in democracy’s sacred act of voting.
The system is not perfect – far from it – but even if one vote won’t ultimately change a given election, we behave as though it might. Establishing Election Day as a national holiday would help reach that end.