When the 113th Congress returns next week for its lame-duck session, a senator with a very secure seat — and presidential aspirations — will be filing a bill to make Election Day a national holiday.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said a reason for the legislation, the “Democracy Day Act of 2014,” is low voter turnout on Tuesday.
Sanders said his home state, which had a gubernatorial race, only had 43.7 percent voter turnout, the lowest on record. The United States Elections Project at the University of Florida estimated nationwide turnout at 36.6 percent, the senator noted, with the biggest drop-off among minorities and young people.
Eight percent of midterm voters were Hispanic, and 18- to 29-year-olds made up just 13 percent of the electorate, he stressed.
“In America, we should be celebrating our democracy and doing everything possible to make it easier for people to participate in the political process,” Sanders said in a statement. “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.”
President Obama took a dig at the low voter turnout in his Wednesday press conference, saying he was listening to the voters and “for the 2/3 of voters who chose not to participate in the process yesterday, I hear you too.”
Sanders noted that midterms see lower numbers but said presidential election years that see turnout averages in the 60th percentile are “an international embarrassment” compared to other democracies.
“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,” Sanders said. “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.”
The bill would amend the U.S. Code to add after Columbus Day, “Federal Election Day: the Tuesday next after the first Monday in November in each even-numbered year.”
Sanders said giving everyone the day off work is only part of his strategy to increase voter turnout, which includes criticism of “a wave of voter-suppression laws passed in states with Republican legislatures and governors.”
The Vermont race finished with neither candidate reaching 50 percent of the vote: incumbent Democrat Peter Shumlin got 46 percent and Republican Scott Milne got 45 percent. Five third-party candidates were on the ballot. Under state law, the pick of the next governor goes to the Democratic-controlled legislature when it reconvenes in January.