167 years of voting on Tuesday — it's time for a change
Even if other states don't want to copy Washington state and to go to mail voting, writes Times editorial intern Alicia Halberg, Election Day ought to be moved to a more convenient day, during the weekend.
Special to The Times
I remember Election Day 2008. A group of mostly older folks waited in the morning for the polling location which I volunteered to open. There were only lines to vote in the early morning and evening — before and after the workday.
It is inconvenient and disenfranchising to hold Election Day on a typical workday. Voters' desire for convenience pushed Washington to implement a vote-by-mail system after the last presidential election because voters increasingly opted for flexibility, requesting absentee ballots. Other states should take notice of our state's high turnout rates.
Even if other states don't want to go to mail voting, Election Day ought to be moved to a more convenient day, during the weekend.
According to the U.S. census, the main reason people failed to vote in 2010 was that they were too busy or had a conflicting schedule.
So why vote on a Tuesday?
"The electors ... shall be appointed in each State on the Tuesday next after the first Monday in the month of November of the year in which they are to be appointed," reads a statute passed by the 28th Congress in January 1845.
The Constitution says, "The Congress may determine the Time of chusing [sic] the Electors, and the Day on which they shall give their Votes."
Along comes Jacob Soboroff, executive director of "Why Tuesday," a group dedicated to asking public officials that question. He says Congress chose the Tuesday after the first Monday in November for a few reasons.
November was ideal because the harvest season was finished, but winter had yet to set in.
Tuesdays were ideal because citizens traveled to the county seat to vote, often by horse and buggy. An election Monday would have meant leaving home on a Sunday, usually reserved for church. Wednesdays were out as it was considered a market day. Saturday was often reserved for work, particularly farming.
Sometimes Tuesdays didn't even work. Legislators chose the Tuesday after the first Monday to prevent it from being held on the Catholic holiday All Saints' Day.
So Congress chose the current Election Day because of convenience for voters. If that's the criterion, then Congress ought to change the date to reflect modern schedules.
Legislators have taken up the issue every few years in Congress. The most recent bill, the Weekend Voting Act, was introduced by U.S. Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., in March, and will likely die in committee. It always dies in committee, as if enabling people to vote isn't a big deal.
Washington wasn't a state when Tuesday was designated U.S. Election Day in 1845.
Washington, with its vote-by-mail system, would see little impact from changing the date compared with states with traditional polling locations. Here, voters can submit their ballots anytime during a three-week period up until Election Day.
This convenience shows: 53.2 percent of all people eligible to vote in this state — not just those registered to vote — actually did so in 2010, one of the highest rates in America. By comparison, the country's overall turnout lags behind at 41 percent.
But, in at least six different Washington state laws, Tuesdays are still specified as election days, including primaries and special elections.
Perhaps Washingtonians who suffer from busy schedules and live farther from a mailbox or ballot drop-box would benefit from having until the weekend to vote. Sure, these voters could turn ballots in during an earlier weekend, but some endorsements and decisions don't come until the final days of campaigning. I'm not saying we should cater to procrastinators, but everyone should have a fair shot.
The U.S. wouldn't be the only country with weekend voting. France held its first round of presidential elections just last weekend. Germany, Thailand, Russia and Japan also use weekends to vote and have healthy voter-turnout rates.
If the 28th Congress chose Tuesday because it was the most convenient day for Americans, the 112th Congress should change it for the same reason — unless Congress expects voters to travel by horse and buggy, after they've finished harvesting their crops.
Alicia Halberg is a senior at the University of Washington and the spring editorial intern at The Seattle Times.