By EMILY SHUMAKER
Election Day should bring the nation a collective sensation of calm, excitement and pride at the task of exercising their democratic right and casting their vote, but our lifestyle as a nation doesn’t allow for that. Instead, citizens must still prioritize work before their country on Election Day. The day still brings work obligations and scheduling that can make voting an afterthought, or even an impossibility, rather than a priority. The nation should declare Election Day as a national holiday in the footsteps of the University of Mary Washington, whose students declared a “Day on Democracy,” which cancels all classes on General Election Day.
Placing work to the side for one day, allowing their country and democracy to be the most important thing, would make radical changes. If our nation was made up of people who cared so much about their leadership that they were willing to put work to the side for a day, then our country would stand stronger and more vibrant than ever.
While voter turnout did increase the last election as compared to the 2014 election, recognizing Election Day as a national holiday would undoubtedly increase turnout. Removing the barrier and aligning our society with our democratic beliefs would further catalyze this move to increased participation.
Among the groups who find it most difficult to get to the polls are students and people with multiple jobs. Scheduling time to get to the polls proves an impossibility and while some may argue that 13 hours should be a reasonable amount of time for anybody to get out and vote, it simply is not. The difficulty of work, traffic, children, school, and everyday tasks make it either impossible for some or simply too difficult. Even if people can leave their homes early to go before their jobs, that choice is not always feasible or appealing enough to make them actually want to go. There is too much else grabbing for their time.
Tracee Fisher, owner of Chalk N More, said she thinks election day should be a national holiday, “especially when you get to the higher level of electing the president. It’s what our country was founded on. There are many people of different ethnicities who have fought for the right to vote. Your right to vote determines the future of the country.”
She said the main reason she does not get out to vote is “job constraints.” In addition to being a small business owner, she is a school teacher. If the school district does not provide leave or is not one of the schools chosen for hosting the polls, a teacher has to take personal time to go vote. When given the choice, it is hard to prioritize voting over maintaining your job and income.
University of Mary Washington students are leading and representing higher education with grace and determination. The proposal, titled “Day on Democracy,” was set forth last year by a group of passionate students who worked with alumni, faculty, and administration. According to the document, the proposal “require[d] the cancellation of all classes on Election Day every year, for each November General Election.” The proposal was passed and will not only allow students time to go to the polls but will also allow them the time to engage in community projects.
The students are setting a fantastic example for the nation. If we want all of our citizens to show up and vote, then we need to make changes as a nation that aligns with our said priorities.
Among the many reasons why the students cited that it was to “fulfill their public mission” and “to communicate to students and community members that every election matters.”
In addition to freeing up the day, recognizing it as a national holiday would allow citizens the time for the preparation that is required to vote responsibly. In the time preceding the election, people are catching up on where certain candidates stand, checking to make sure their registration is correct, and finding out where their assigned polling place is. Following the actual task of casting their ballot, citizens would be free to watch the media closely to see who wins. It would undoubtedly result in more engaged citizens and a more vibrant nation.
Most importantly, this would represent a powerful and much-needed shift in the way we live in our democracy. Our priorities would begin to line up with our lifestyle as a nation. Voting is a right of every individual in our country and our society should not be set up in such a way that its practices do not align with these rights.
The University of Mary Washington’s “Day on Democracy” boldy supports American democracy and according to the proposal, it is “the first public institution of higher education to observe Election Day independent of state requirements.” Their leadership should provide compelling evidence for the nation to show the same grit, passion, and commitment. If a university is willing to cancel classes to remove a barrier for students, then a nation should be willing to cancel work to remove a barrier for their citizens. The United States can and should follow suit by declaring a “Day on Democracy” nationwide.
The government and employers need to free the citizens of their obligations in order for them to participate in their democracy.