President Barack Obama is a fan of any policy that increases voter turnout. Last year he talked about how mandatory voting, as practiced in Australia, would have a "transformative" impact on American democracy. Now he's shown interest in the idea of making Election Day a holiday.
Dan Corey, the editor-in-chief of Rutgers University's newspaper the Daily Targum, asked Obama during an interview published Thursday whether the United States should follow the lead of countries in which "the government automatically registers voters and holds elections on days that are weekend days or national holidays."
Obama responded enthusiastically in the affirmative. His response is worth quoting at length:
Absolutely. We are the only advanced democracy that makes it deliberately difficult for people to vote. And some of it has to do with the nature of our history and our Constitution, where we allow individual states to determine their own processes for structuring elections within certain boundaries.
I think that we know some states like Oregon are doing a much better job at extending mail-in voting, increasing tools like online voting that are safe and secure, give people flexibility over a long period of time, (and) early voting. And so everything we can do to make sure that we're increasing participation is something that we should promote and encourage. Our democracy is not going to function well when only half or a third of eligible voters are participating.
The single most dramatic political change that could occur in this country—and the best way for us to relieve the frustrations that people feel around the political process—would be if we had greater participation that was more reflective of the day-to-day concerns that people have.
Unfortunately, at the moment, advocates for increasing access to the voting booth are not in a place to focus their energy on making Election Day a federal holiday, as they have to spend most of it trying to defend the current system from the ongoing Republican effort to impose new voting restrictions.