Weekend vote: It's time to ditch Tuesday voting 11.05.08

Did you make it to the polls and through the polls all right on Tuesday? Maybe before work, or after work or during your lunch hour?

Did you ever wonder why Americans vote on Tuesdays?

New York Times staff writer Norman Ornstein and U.S. Rep. Steve Israel looked into that question and the answer will likely surprise you.

What they found out is that Tuesday made perfect sense back in 1845 when Congress made it a law. Saturday was for farming, Sunday was for worship, Monday was used to hitch up the team and travel to the nearest polling place.

You voted on Tuesday, you made the long trip back home on Wednesday and you got back to work on Thursday after missing three important days on the job.

Not only does this point out the changes from the agrarian society of 175 years ago, it also highlights the seriousness of the right to vote. Citizens made a terrific effort to make their voice heard in the democratic process.

And what about today? As Ornstein and Israel point out, voter turnout in the U.S. never comes close to nations including Iceland, Sweden and New Zealand—a few of the world leaders when it comes to voter participation.

Even in good years, American turnout for the presidential election doesn’t stray far from 60 percent, and those years are few and far between. Recent elections have finished closer to 50 percent—only half of all registered voters go to the polls.

Reasons for those numbers vary, but one factor is the Tuesday election day. It’s a busy working day for most people and getting out to vote is not always a simple matter.

Some people suggest making election day a holiday, but that’s not a good solution. It could even result in another excuse not to vote for those taking advantage of a day off.

There’s legislation in Congress now that would create a weekend vote, a procedure used in many of those countries with the best participation.

The presidential election would be scheduled on the Saturday and Sunday after the first Friday in November. To accommodate those who aren’t at home on weekends, there would be a few days of early voting.

Two weekend days would increase the likelihood of voting rather than penalizing single parents or citizens working two jobs. It would certainly making voting easier and that should be the direction to move toward rather than making our democratic right more of a challenge.

In 1845, Congress made the effort to create a voting process that encouraged participation. It’s time for our contemporary representatives to do that once again.