In most states and cities, Americans can vote early, request an absentee ballot or vote by mail.
But alternatives to holding elections on a Tuesday — including moving Election Day to the weekends — do little to change voter turnout, according to a Government Accountability Office report released Thursday.
Federal law states that the presidential and congressional elections must occur on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November in even-numbered years. But about 10,500 local election jurisdictions nationwide are responsible for scheduling the timing and location of all other state, county and local elections.
Historically, only Louisiana and Texas hold nonfederal elections on Saturdays. Delaware once scheduled primary and general elections on Saturdays, but moved to Tuesdays in 2002 out of respect for the Jewish Sabbath. The South Carolina Republican presidential primary is scheduled for next Saturday.
Congress asked GAO to investigate the viability of moving federal elections to the weekends after lawmakers introduced legislation in 2009 that would have allowed voting to begin Saturday morning and continue through Sunday at 6 p.m. Supporters argued that weekend voting would make it easier for the elderly and working Americans to take time out to vote.
But studying the potential affect of weekend voting is difficult, GAO said, because — naturally — it’s never happened. Auditors reviewed 24 independent studies on the subject of alternative voting methods and found that only the vote-by-mail option significantly affects voter turnout (casting ballots by mail has boosted turnout in Oregon and Washington state).
All other alternative voting methods only change final turnout numbers by about 4 percent, GAO said. In 2010, auditors found that just 1.5 percent of Maryland voters took advantage of early voting polling locations that opened the Saturday before the traditional Tuesday Election Day.
State and local election officials quoted in the report warned that moving Election Day to the weekends might make it difficult to recruit poll workers distracted by competing weekend priorities, including errands and attending sporting events, family occasions or religious services. State and local boards of elections might also face difficulty booking space at churches, schools, community centers and libraries, the officials said.
Despite what some might think, public support for weekend voting is soft. Pollsters don’t often ask the question — it hasn’t been asked since 1996, when CBS News found that just 20 percent of voters said they would be more likely to vote if an election were held on Saturday or Sunday; 75 percent said the date would make no difference.
Those supportive of moving elections to the weekends should cling to this nugget of data: The GAO’s analysis of Maryland voting trends found that the youngest and least experienced voters were more likely to vote on Saturday, compared to slightly older and more experienced voters, who mostly waited until Tuesday.
Polling manager Peyton M. Craighill contributed to this report.
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