Voter suppression is one of the most pressing issues facing American democracy today. Many scholars worry we are living through a second coming of Jim Crow as across the nation elected officials are making it harder for people to cast their vote, particularly people of color. America is a nation that was founded upon principles of democracy and liberty, yet many Americans have seen their rights to these two basic pillars of our national creed infringed upon by politicians who favor their own election over our binding principles of democracy. This alarming trend has been a central issue in the American polity since before I was able to cast my first vote in 2018, and yet voter suppression tactics continue to expand and adapt. A true democracy is one where every citizen has equal right and opportunity to cast a vote and be fairly represented in government. As of late, America has failed to live up to its founding principles and is failing all of its citizens by subjugating even some of the populous to egregious voter suppression tactics. Voters are being targeted in many different ways and a plethora of activist groups have answered the call to defend one of our most sacred rights. There is one battle in this war against voter suppression that would affect more voters than any state’s election suppression efforts – enacting a federal election day holiday.
It is no secret that voters’ right to uninfringed access to the ballot box has been under siege in recent years, but even those of us who acknowledge this fact may not know how these efforts are targeting voters across the nation. Voter suppression has taken many forms within the United States. Each tactic may be utilized to target a certain type of voter. Targeting may include racial minorities, voters of a lower socioeconomic standing, voters of the party not in power, voters who work long hours, uneducated voters, etc. Within these groups are voters one could typically profile as both Republican or Democrat, but a deeper dive into how these tactics are employed shows that, in recent years, they have primarily been put in place by Republican law makers to stifle the growing Democratic majority. This trend makes sense if one looks at the changing demographics across the United States. A party who has only won the national popular vote in a presidential election once since 2000 can’t maintain democratically elected majorities without making it harder for some on the other side of the aisle to vote. If America were a nation born out of a struggle to protect one’s right to game the system and maintain a majority by any means, the Republican effort would be laudable. America, however, was not founded on these principles and democracy does not promote minority rule. For now, the easiest path to securing victory as a minority party is through strategic victories at the state level that allow for manipulation of voting laws in order to enable national victory.
Voter suppression is nothing new in the United States and the Republican Party is not the first political party to utilize it for their personal gain. The electoral system in the United States is built in such a way that the minority party has the tools to protect their power and maintain some control. This is not an inherently bad thing, but when it jeopardizes the will of the many in favor of the will of the few democracy is in peril. As mentioned before, there are numerous groups fighting for more equitable voting rights across the nation. Groups such as Fair Fight, the ACLU, Democracy Works, and Common Cause, among others, are fighting these restrictions in court almost every day. The activism these groups display is a vital piece of the struggle against voter suppression, and more can be done. One proposal that has gained steam in recent years is to federally mandate Election Day as a national holiday. While this mandate would not fix the legislation that has been passed in states across the country, it would provide a great deal of access to voting that many do not enjoy. Why not create more access to the polls while fighting against new barriers?
The enactment of a federal holiday on election day has been proven to increase turnout in countries across the world, leading to more representative and democratic elections. Voting typically takes place on a workday and many Americans can’t afford to take a day off of work to vote. In those states where some amount of time off is required by law, this time may still not be enough as long lines have become an epidemic, especially in battleground states. Not only would this holiday give working Americans the necessary time to go cast their vote, it would allow for more people to volunteer as elections workers, expediating voting while getting more citizens involved in the civic process. An election holiday would also relieve some of the poisonous partisanship from the process. If election day became a holiday, a celebration of democracy and our civic duty, perhaps voters would more easily grasp the importance of their vote and the American experiment in democracy. Communities will be brought together as they exercise their sacred right to vote and this collective action will only further the calls against unfair voting laws. If election day is a day to be marked on the calendar and celebrated, no one will want to miss out. We must bring the joy back to voting and the pride back to American democracy. Without these, it will be easier than ever to disrupt and infringe upon this democracy.