A city in Ohio made Election Day a holiday—and set an example for the US

Voting on Election Day should not be a challenge.
Voting on Election Day should not be a challenge.
Image: REUTERS/Al Drago
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Sandusky, a small city in Ohio, recently did what activists and politicians on a national level have long been calling for to make voting more equitable: It turned Election Day into a holiday.

The change affects only about 250 city workers, but it sets an important example for other governments—including the federal one—and private enterprises.

The Sandusky city commissioners voted for the change in January. In order to make up for the lost work day, the city got rid of Columbus Day, a holiday that is controversial among some in the US because it celebrates a man who enslaved and brutally treated indigenous people. The affected workers will lose a long weekend, since Columbus Day falls on a Monday and elections in the United States are usually held on Tuesdays.

Making Election Day free from work should help those who are normally unable to take time off go vote, particularly low-wage employees who work long shifts, have more than one job, and often must balance it all with childcare. A US Census Bureau survey found that about 14% of respondents, about 2.7 million people, said the main reason they did not vote was because they were too busy to do so.

Making the day a celebration of democracy, with festivals and election-related fun, could help as well, some argue (paywall).

Others point out that making Election Day an official holiday still favors white-collar workers, since big retailers and chain restaurants usually don’t close on holidays, and many American workers don’t get any paid time off whatsoever.

That’s why a lot depends on the policies of private companies. Some have taken up the cause in recent years: GM, Casper, and Patagonia (paywall) gave their employees a paid day off to vote in the 2016 presidential election. Hundreds of others have offered paid time off.

In the US, the issue is at the center of a fierce partisan debate. Congress considered bills to make Election Day a day free from work for the entire country several times over the past two decades, with the latest proposal introduced this year in the House of Representatives as part of larger voting legislation.

But Republican Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell harshly criticized the idea, both on the floor of the Senate and in an op-ed for the Washington Post (paywall). He called it a “power grab” on the part of the Democrats (which is likely based on the assumption that higher turnout favors Democrats).

In many countries, including Australia, Greece, Brazil, France, Poland, and Germany, elections are held on either Saturday or Sunday. In fact, the Pew Research Center found that 27 out of 36 member nations of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development had weekend elections. In South Korea and Israel, the day is a national holiday.

In the US, it’s just a plain old Tuesday, because in the 1840s farmers couldn’t travel on Sunday due to religious reasons, and had to be in town on Wednesday for market day.