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Would weekend voting increase turnout?

June 4, 2018
In The News

About 18 percent of eligible Democratic and Republican voters cast ballots during last month’s primary election, according to unofficial returns, a slightly better turnout than the last midterm election.

But it’s hardly a bellwether for citizen enthusiasm in the nation’s democratic electoral process.

So, why haven’t droves of voters gone to the polls?

Two Philadelphia-area Democratic lawmakers think they have part of the answer: It’s Tuesday’s fault.

U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle and his brother, state Rep. Kevin Boyle, will hold a news conference today in the state Capitol touting companion legislation to move Election Day from a Tuesday to a Saturday and Sunday.

In 1845, Congress set Election Day nationwide as the first Tuesday following the first Monday of November. The date was picked to meet the work and religious demands of a then mostly agrarian society.

Tuesday gave farmers enough travel time to get to and from the polls without interfering with Sunday church services or Wednesday trips to the market.

The Boyles argue society has changed so much over 173 years that Tuesday is no longer the best day of the week to hold elections.

They cite polling data from adults who say they don’t have time to vote amid work, school and family obligations. Voters, they argue, would have more time to make it to the polls on weekends.

Their legislation would move Election Day to the “first Saturday and Sunday after the first Friday” in November.

Congressman Boyle is proposing federal legislation to move the day. Kevin Boyle is doing the same thing at the state level.

“In presidential elections from 2000 to 2012, approximately one-fifth of registered voters who did not cast a ballot listed ‘too busy, conflicting work or school schedule’ as their reason for not voting,” the Boyles wrote.

In 2014, the last midterm election, “roughly 35 percent of those who were eligible to vote but did not do so listed scheduling conflicts with work or school as their primary reason for not voting,” they wrote.

In 2016, the last presidential election, being too busy dropped to third place as a reason for not voting, falling behind dislike of the candidates and a lack of interest in the election, they said.

It’s doubtful, however, either bill would ever become law.

The late U.S. Rep. Louise Slaughter of New York pushed similar legislation for years. In fact, Brendan Boyle named his bill after her: The Louise Slaughter Weekend Voting Act.

There have been arguments for moving Election Day to Saturday to avoid the common five-day work week, said G. Terry Madonna, pollster and political science professor at Franklin & Marshall College.

“Any day you pick is going to inconvenience somebody in the workforce,” Madonna said.

Motivation, not the day of the week, is the main reason voter turnout remains low, he said. People are turned off to American politics because they don’t think their vote matters and schools no longer emphasize the importance of voting and citizenship as part of the curriculum, he said.

“Making it a tad more convenient is not the solution,” Madonna said. “What we need to emphasize is the educational relevance and importance of voting.”

Schools routinely hold mock elections, allow students to vote for student council, and teach the difference between the executive, legislative and judicial branches.

“Schools certainly expose students through curriculum and activities,” said Joseph Roy, superintendent of the Bethlehem Area School District. “We could probably do more” by taking advantage of high school students’ growing interest in activism and voting after the school shooting in Parkland, Fla.

“If we get people voting the first time when they are 18 — it’s just my feeling — they may be more likely to be a voter again.”

At some point, however, lessons that school teach lose their relevance.

A 2016 study by the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania found that just 26 percent of Americans could name the three branches of government. That was the worst score, by far, in a half dozen years.

Bottom line: The U.S. has the sixth lowest voter turnout among democratic developed nations, according to a new Pew Research Center Study.

The study, released May 21, found the United States ranks 26th out of 32 nations in turnout. Some of the countries with better voter participation were Estonia, Ireland, Greece, Mexico, Germany, Belgium and 19 other nations.