A big question in American electoral administration is to what extent voter turnout is affected by the day of the week on which we vote — Tuesday. As the U.S. faces low voter turnout, any administrative barriers to voting should be reformed. But the important question remains: would voter turnout increase with a move on the calendar? I’m not so sure.
First, it is important to know that Tuesday is not determined as the day for elections by the U.S. Constitution — it is determined by state and federal law, pursuant to (quite confusingly) Article I Section 4 and Article II Section 1 of the Constitution. Second, because voting depends on your state, concepts like ‘early voting,’ ‘advanced voting,’ and ‘absentee voting’ don’t necessarily exist throughout the country, and even so each state may have different requirements. This post is limited to the day on which most of us vote and the day after which the votes are counted: Election Day.
Our good friends at Why Tuesday? advocate changing the day on which we vote to a weekend. Unfortunately weekend voting in the U.S. has been poorly understudied. Recently, South Carolina has attempted to vote on Saturdays out of respect for the Jewish community in their state. That makes sense; while overall turnout may possibly increase, alienating an entire religious group is generally not advisable for democratic populism. Religious sensitivity could, therefore, take Friday, Saturday, and Sunday out of the Election Day race. But the bigger point about weekend voting is that Americans love their weekends. We work a lot, and perish the thought of adding duties to our weekends. We have children to spend time with, projects to continue, football to watch, and many other things. Using about as much empirical evidence as anyone else on this topic, I would not favor a move of Election Day to the weekend.
However, the huge problem with voting during the work week is that many people, naturally, have to work. Many can’t afford to leave their jobs or children and go and vote. As such, whichever day we vote should be a federal holiday, with as many establishments closed as possible. But even so, which day should we vote on? The first logical answer may be Monday — we already have several holidays observed on Mondays. The problem is that creates a three-day weekend. Who’d want to lose a three-day weekend by staying home and voting, when that’s the perfect opportunity to take a small vacation? That’s what Americans do: the only things we love more than weekends are longer weekends!
I think you get the point. We’ve arrived at where we started. While the reasons for voting on Tuesday are horribly anachronistic, the real evil for voter turnout is that Election Day is not a federal holiday with most public and private establishments (including schools) having the day off. While Wednesday and Thursday are both still on the table, I don’t see an advantage to those days over Tuesday.
Voter turnout initiatives should be primarily concerned with equally increasing the number of people willing and able to vote. I think the best way to do this is to in fact keep elections on Tuesdays, and to make that day a less busy one by allowing working Americans across the board to commit to their civic duty.