Should voting day be a holiday? Some election deniers say yes
Voting in the 2022 midterms has been going on for weeks. The pandemic expanded options in many states, but voters who want to cast their ballot on Election Day still have to go to the polls on a Tuesday, and may have to take time off of work to do so.
Democrats have long led the push for an Election Day holiday, but in the last two years Republicans have put forward at least seven of their own bills as well. An NPR investigation found that sponsors of GOP bills in Arizona and Missouri met or appeared with prominent election deniers, and the influence of election misinformation can be seen in their other proposed election reforms – including limiting mail-in ballots and ending the use of voting machines.
Election Day holiday bills from each party show their different visions for the future of American elections.
Democrats favor reforms like mail-in voting and automatic absentee balloting.
That's the case for Florida State Representative Geraldine Thompson, who said she wants to make voting easier for people who are weighing the demands of work and civic duty.
"People have to go to work," Thompson said. "And so I think making Election Day a holiday will allow more people to participate in our democracy."
Thompson sponsored a bill to make Election Day a holiday in her state – the bill contained additional reforms like pre-paid postage on mail-in ballots. In New Mexico, another voting holiday bill went even further, lowering the voting age to 16 in local elections, re-enfranchising people with felony convictions, and making voter registration automatic through the DMV.
New Mexico State Senator Peter Wirth sponsored that bill, which was killed by a filibuster. He told NPR the bill's hearing was "contentious," and that it seemed like word had been sent out that the bill's provisions to expand voting access were "dangerous."
Republican bills to give voters the day off don't make it part of a list of reforms to expand voting options. Instead, they often seek to limit voting access to in-person, Election Day ballots.
Seth Keshel is a prominent election denier who travels the country touting a ten-point plan for voting policy, and he shared one of those points on the right-wing Stew Peters Show.
"So go ahead and tell the left that we want to turn Election Day into a national holiday and see how they are going to oppose that. But for us we are going to be able to press the measures we need - like restricting mail-in ballots, restricting early voting."
These proposed restrictions are based on misinformation lingering from former President Donald Trump's loss in the 2020 election. Election deniers, including some Republican politicians and their supporters, claim almost any voting expansion – like mail-in voting and drop boxes – is prone to fraud.
Keshel's philosophy shows up in legislation in Arizona, Missouri, and Washington. He and other election deniers have met or appeared with three of the Republicans who have sponsored bills to make Election Day a holiday.
State Representative Ann Kelley sponsored a Missouri bill to make Election Day a holiday. She told NPR by email she wanted to have more people available to staff elections.
"Some counties," Kelley wrote, "it is difficult to even find a place to vote, so this would potentially open up school buildings."
Kelley's bill would have done much more than close schools and give workers the day off. The proposed legislation includes ending electronic voting entirely, a ban on sending unsolicited absentee ballot request forms, and additional provisions for Missouri's voter ID law.
Other Election Day holiday bills came with similar restrictions. An Arizona bill would have repealed the authorization for voting locations to be used as early voting sites, and limited voting centers to Election Day.
And proposals linked to a bill in Washington would have added a new photo ID provision and limited early voting to just two weekends, rather than an 18-day voting period.
Michael Alvarez is professor of political science at Caltech and he's been studying the idea of an Election Day holiday and other reforms to make voting more convenient since the aftermath of the 2000 election. His research is focused on voter behavior and which reforms increase turnout.
Alvarez told NPR the idea for a voting holiday has been around for a while, mostly put forward by Democrats seeking to expand access for voters. But in Republican legislation, he says, the idea is part of a list of reforms that would ultimately narrow voting options.
"It is likely at this point in time being used by those who are opposed to allowing voting for an extended period of time," Alvarez said.
He also bemoaned the politicization of voting reform.
"I think that one of the unfortunate realities of America today is that a lot of these really well-intentioned reforms are being talked about in political and highly polarized ways."
He says an Election Day holiday is a good idea, but there are downsides too. He's spoken with parents who worry having their kids out of school would make it harder, not easier, for them to get to the polls.
His philosophy for voting reform is focused on expanding voters' options.
"Concentrating on this one day," Alvarez said, "even if we try to make this one day a day off for many if not most people, is not as good an idea as concentrating on trying to make voting accessible during a broader period of time."
Those options have a real world impact as voters evaluate their schedules in the lead up to Election Day.
Yolande Vincent's employer gives her time off to vote on Election Day. For her, that's easier than voting early.
"I do IT for a living, so it's really hard to predict when I'm going to have a moment to come and vote, so I have to wait until the day of."
Vincent said for her, a holiday on Election Day wouldn't make much of a difference, but she says it would be "tremendously" helpful for her kids, who work blue collar jobs.
"You say well oh it's only gonna take you possibly two, maybe three hours tops," Vincent said, "But for a lot of people, that's a big deal to be missing out of your paycheck."
This year, Vincent expects her daughter will vote by mail to avoid any last minute problems, while her sons will likely go to the polls after work on Election Day. However it happens, she's confident they'll vote.
"It was mandatory when my kids turned 18, let's go register to have you vote because, there's people that died for you to have this opportunity and chance, so you're gonna do it," Vincent said. "So my grandkids, as soon as they turned 18 they started voting. So it continues."
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