Voting on the Weekend? Democrats Eye a New Election Day

Mar 9, 2012 4:21pm

Americans have long voted on Tuesdays, a tradition held over from the mid-1800s, when it was more convenient for farmers. But voting on Tuesday is more difficult in the 21st century, when people have longer commutes, jobs with odd hours, and generally faster-paced, more crammed lives.

Two top Democrats suggest it would be more convenient in these times to vote on the weekend instead. They want Saturday to be the new Election Day, and ideally for them, that would start in 2014.

Congressmen Steve Israel (N.Y.) and John Larson (Conn.) have announced legislation that would let Americans vote on the first full weekend in November instead of the first Tuesday, a change they say would drive up voter turnout by making it more convenient for people who work during the week to cast ballots.

This isn’t the first time an effort to move Election Day has been brought up, but advocates are hopeful that they have traction. Already, behind-the-scenes talks in the halls of Congress are leading to movement on the bill that is likely to be seen in the next couple of weeks, according to a person familiar with the discussions who asked not to be named.

Tuesday was chosen as Election Day in 1845, when Congress decreed it the most convenient day for farmers — they needed three days to travel to their voting place without interfering with three days of religious worship. Reformers say the law is outdated and now interferes with workers’ plans, particularly people working more than one job or single parents who have responsibilities that might eclipse voting.

That’s where the issue becomes partisan. The movement has been viewed as a liberal effort because it would open the polls to poorer people, who typically vote for Democrats.

Proponents of the effort are hoping that endorsements from Republicans will help their cause and get the bill passed in time to change Election Day 2014. A video on the website for “Why Tuesday?”, the main outside group behind the effort, features support from former presidential candidates Mike Huckabee and John McCain.

Salley Wood, a spokeswoman for the Republicans on the House Administration Committee, said of the new bill in Congress, “The intent is good.” The legislation calls for opening polls from 10 a.m. Saturday to 6 p.m. Sunday, with the option of closing them overnight.

“Faced with significant budget cuts, could they afford to keep polls open for two days doubling the cost and staffing needs?” Wood said in an email.

Israel said in an interview that those concerns deserve examination.

“There are some, you know, who say the additional cost of paying inspectors for an additional day over the weekend needs to be evaluated, and I agree, we should evaluate,” he said.

Israel said he hasn’t yet run his bill by the White House but that he plans to. The White House didn’t respond to a request for the administration’s reaction.

“One of the concerns the White House has is active attempts by Republicans to deny people their right to vote in order to change the outcome of elections,” Israel said. “Anything we can do to make voting more accessible for Democrats instead of less accessible … I would hope the White House would endorse.”

Julian Zelizer, a political historian at Princeton University, said the effort clearly benefits Democrats, but that it’s “unfortunate” because making voting more possible should be an issue embraced by both parties.

“It’s at least worth a debate,” he said, “and there’s no reason that either party should be scared of debating, how do we get more Americans to participate in the democratic process?”

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