Make Election Day a Holiday: It’s the American Thing to Do
In one important measure of democracy, America is unfortunately not first. Or even 20th.
In fact, according to a 2018 study by the Pew Research Center, the United States ranks near the bottom for voter turnout among its peers in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, just 26th out of 32 countries.
In the top 15 countries in Pew’s study, turnout of the voting-age public ranged from 87.21 percent (Belgium) to 65.97 percent (Mexico). In the U.S., only 56 percent of the voting-age public participated in the 2016 presidential election.
What can we do in the United States to improve this core aspect of our democracy?
A handful of countries, including Belgium, achieve their high turnout rates by making voting compulsory. Others hold elections on weekends, or make Election Day a national holiday.
To make America first again, a new national holiday is the canonically American way to do it.
Making Election Day a national holiday positions voting as an act of joyful civic celebration. It says that we as society value the widespread participation of citizens in democracy so highly that we put it on par with Presidents Day, Veterans Day, Independence Day, Thanksgiving, and other national holidays. In the same way that other major holidays have become powerful economic engines, it creates new opportunities for entrepreneurism and commerce. And it encourages us to think of voting as something we do communally, with friends and family, as a shared expression of what it means to be American.
Actively looking ways to increase voting rates should be a national priority, because higher voting rates reflect an engaged electorate — more people who feel like co-owners of our society, more people who want to have a say in where we’re going as a country. This, in turn, increases the moral legitimacy of our democracy.
Indeed, our ability to choose our leaders in free and fair elections is the foundation of our democracy. In contrast, devising new ways to strip citizens of their right to vote, or systematically working to make voting hard and inconvenient, is immoral and anti-American.