Tuesday's election is on track to mark one of the lowest voter turnouts ever in a national election, with early numbers showing only 36.6 percent of eligible Americans got to the polls. There's an easy fix for that, says Sen. Bernie Sanders: Make Election Day a national holiday.
The independent senator from Vermont plans to introduce legislation next week calling for a new federal holiday, aptly named "Democracy Day," his office announced Friday. But if history tells us anything, it's that, despite broad support from both sides of the aisle, the bill is almost sure to be dead on arrival.
Election reform organization Why Tuesday?, founded in part by former Democratic Sen. Bill Bradley and former Republican Rep. Jack Kemp, has sought to advance a weekend-voting solution. Jacob Soboroff, a board member for the organization, told National Journal that lawmakers don't have an incentive to change the process.
"Doing the math to win an election is a very specific thing," Soboroff said. "The prospect of allowing more people to join that equation changes the math for getting reelected. I think the majority of people in Congress are good people, but I also think that this is something that's really easy to ignore when it's going to affect their job security. And the onus is really on them to disregard their own job security and improve access to the polls for everybody."
Sanders isn't the first lawmaker to suggest the idea or to propose legislation toward that end. In 2005, then-Sen. Chris Dodd introduced the Voting Opportunity and Technology Enhancement Rights Act, an effort to reform federal elections that included a provision to give Americans Election Day off. Rep. Steve Israel's 2012 Weekend Voting Act, which would have made the weekend after the first Friday in November two federal Election Days, died in committee a year after it was introduced.
Other politicians have shown less concern about Election Day reform. Former Massachusetts Gov. and presidential contender Mitt Romney said in 2012 that he supports leaving such reform to the states, and former Speaker Newt Gingrich dodged a question about voting on weekends in 2011, saying that the more pressing problem is an onslaught of negative campaigns.
While the Sanders bill will likely draw support across party lines, chances are it will go the way similar efforts have.
"People have been supportive of this legislatively," Soboroff said. "But it dies in committee because there just isn't the critical mass to get this thing out and get voted on by the full Congress. And I truly don't have an explanation for it other than this is members of Congress wanting to protect themselves over helping the American people."
This article is from the archive of our partner National Journal.
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