Coming off an Election Day with extremely low voter turnout, Sen. Bernie Sanders announced on Friday that he will introduce legislation to make Election Day a national holiday. “In America, we should be celebrating our democracy and doing everything possible to make it easier for people to participate in the political process. Election Day should be a national holiday so that everyone has the time and opportunity to vote. While this would not be a cure-all, it would indicate a national commitment to create a more vibrant democracy,” said Sanders, who was not on the ballot on Tuesday.
In Vermont, only 43.7 percent of registered voters cast ballots, the worst turnout on record, according to an Associated Press analysis. Nationwide, preliminary indications are that the total turnout was only 36.6 percent, according to the United States Elections Project at the University of Florida. The big drop-off from presidential election years was disproportionately greater among minorities and young people. Voters 18- to 29-years-old made up only 13 percent of those who went to the polls on Tuesday, according to exit polls. The same survey found that only 8 percent of Tuesday’s voters were Hispanics, far less than the Latino share of the population.
“We should not be satisfied with a ‘democracy’ in which more than 60 percent of our people don’t vote and some 80 percent of young people and low-income Americans fail to vote. We can and must do better than that. While we must also focus on campaign finance reform and public funding of elections, establishing an Election Day holiday would be an important step forward.”
More Americans vote in presidential election years, but even typical turnouts of about 60 percent are “an international embarrassment” compared to other democracies, Sanders said. In Denmark, 80 percent turnout is normal. The International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance ranks the United States 120th in the world for average turnout.
Sanders said a national holiday would be just one step forward in attempting to strengthen American democracy. He has long advocated public funding of elections to blunt the impact of negative campaign ads bankrolled by billionaires and big corporations. He cosponsored a constitutional amendment to overturn the disastrous 2010 Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission that voided campaign funding limits.
Sanders also has criticized a wave of voter-suppression laws passed in states with Republican legislatures and governors. Reducing opportunities for early voting, making it harder to register to vote and requiring IDs all have discouraged participation in elections.
Sanders’ legislation will be filed next week when Congress reconvenes. To read the bill, click here.