Shifting voting to weekends makes sense
With the 2008 presidential elections fast approaching, we should not forget the unique and important role voters have in choosing our next president. After all is said and done, a democracy is only as strong as the participation in it.
That said, it is troubling to see a decline in voter turnout in our national elections. For the last three presidential elections, barely more than half (51.9 percent) of the voting age population even voted. And yet little has been done to correct perhaps the most serious obstacle to voting in the United States—the fact that Election Day is inconveniently scheduled in the middle of the week—a Tuesday—when voting for most people means taking off time from work, school or child care.
Sixty percent of all households have two working adults. Because most polls in the United States are open only 12 or 13 hours on one day in the middle of the week, typically from 7 a.m. to 7 or 8 p.m., given the midweek demands of work or school, voters often have only one or two hours to vote.
That is why earlier this year I reintroduced legislation to change our national Election Day to the weekend with the goal of encouraging greater participation and improving the process by which we as voters determine who should represent us in government and lead our nation. Under my bill, congressional and presidential elections would be moved from the first Tuesday in November to both days on the first weekend in November.
The last two presidential elections revealed a glaring need for us to rethink how we conduct elections in our nation. The 2000 election with the weeks-long “hanging chad” dispute in Florida galvanized Congress into passing major election reform legislation. The Help America Vote Act, which was enacted into law in 2002, was an important step forward in establishing minimum standards for states in administering federal elections and in providing money to replace outdated voting systems and improve election administration.
As we saw in the 2004 election, long lines in many polling places kept some waiting much longer than one or two hours. If voters have children and are dropping them off at day care, or if they have long work commutes, there is just not enough time in a workday to vote.
Because my legislation would require polling places to be open longer over a two-day period, there would be greater demands placed on these facilities, volunteers and workers. To offset these burdens, the federal government should provide some aid to lessen the burden on our communities and train poll workers and volunteers.
This would be a relatively small investment given the stakes—the integrity of future elections and greater participation of as many eligible voters as possible.
Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wis., can be reached at 330 Hart Building, Washington, D.C., 20510; phone (202) 224-5653; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.