You probably know by now that the United States has one of the lowest voter turnout rates among the world’s advanced democracies, with midterm years seeing particularly weak levels of participation. Some of this low turnout is no accident: Certain states make voting a lot more difficult than others, ostensibly to combat “voter fraud” but arguably simply to skew the electorate in the governing party’s favor.
Many political scientists say that there’s one simple thing the federal government could do to increase voter participation nationwide: Make Election Day a holiday or simply move it to the weekend. The United States, as it turns out, is an outlier among developed nations for holding elections in the middle of the week rather than on the weekend. Among the 36 member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, for instance, 27 held their most recent nationwide elections on a Saturday or Sunday.
Just nine of them, including the United States, held elections during the week. And at least one of those countries, South Korea, makes elections a national holiday.
Would moving elections to the weekend increase voter turnout? Political scientists Adam Bonica and Michael McFaul say it would. “Finding time to vote during a workday imposes a significant burden that falls disproportionately on workers and students, who frequently cite scheduling conflicts with work or school as their reason for not voting,” they wrote in a Washington Post op-ed last month.
After the last midterm election, more than a third of registered voters who didn’t cast a ballot told the Pew Research Center that scheduling conflicts with work or school were the reason they didn’t vote.
Bonica and McFaul also point to census data showing that “salaried professionals with flexible work schedules such as lawyers, educators and executives” report higher turnout than “hourly paid workers in service jobs in restaurants and retail.”
Moving elections to the weekend or a holiday might improve those numbers. Over the past decade, several bills have been introduced by House and Senate Democrats to change Election Day to a national holiday or move it to a weekend. None has made it out of committee.