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Chester County Press

Freedom and Democracy Day would boost civic participation—and a boost is needed

02/05/2019 04:13PM ● By Steven Hoffman

Legislation has been introduced in the U.S. House to make Election Day a federal holiday each year. If approved, federal workers would have the day off to ensure that they have the opportunity to vote. The legislation also encourages private employers to give their workers the day off so that they can make voting a priority.

The Pew Research Center has conducted polls that show that a majority of Americans favor making Election Day a federal holiday. The concept even has bipartisan support—71 percent of Democrats and 59 percent of Republicans favor it.

Democrats have included the Election Day legislation as part of a larger anti-corruption bill, but regardless of that bill's fate, the time has come for Election Day to be set apart from other days on the calendar. We should all cherish the opportunity to vote, the opportunity to decide who represents us in government, and the opportunity to hold those who represent us accountable.

In the past, the Election Day measure has been a part of several voting rights bills, but those bills have never been signed into law. As far back as 1998, Republican lawmakers supported the concept of declaring Election Day as Freedom and Democracy Day, and making it a federal holiday.

Freedom and Democracy Day could transform how people view voting. Declaring it a holiday could highlight the importance of civic participation in a way that few other actions could duplicate. It would be a way to celebrate and honor the democratic process, and to emphasize the importance of voting to our democracy.

In much the same way that Martin Luther King, Jr. Day has become a day of service where students are encouraged to do something in service to their community during the “day off” from school, Freedom and Democracy Day could become a day where students could volunteer to help get senior citizens to the polls or help out the local municipal government for a day. Adults who have the day off can spend extra time learning about the candidates and issues before heading off to the polling place.

Our democracy works best when we're all active, engaged participants.

In 2016, a little more than 60 percent of the U.S. citizens cast ballots in the presidential election. Among modern democracies, the U.S. doesn’t even crack the top 20 when it comes to turnout rates on Election Day. Low-income residents, non-white voters, and working mothers all have lower-than-average participation rates. These are also the people who don't have the money to ensure that their views, and their needs, will be respected by elected officials at all levels of government.

There is a real need to boost civic participation, and to encourage people to play a role in the participatory democracy. Establishing Election Day as a federal holiday would be a step toward doing that. It would also help combat the repugnant trend where some states are making it more difficult for people to vote, rather than easier. All citizens should be offended when government attempts to deny us our rights.

And if Election Day does become a federal holiday, it shouldn’t be moved to a Monday to open up the opportunity for a three-day weekend. That’s not the point of this. In fact, that’s the opposite of the point. The point is to highlight the importance of voting, and to make sure that fewer of us take the right to vote for granted.

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