NY Mag Q&A: Why Vote Tuesday?
Tuesday, November 2nd, 2010
Happy Election Day! I spoke with New York Magazine yesterday about the antiquated way we vote in the United States (aka on Tuesday), and today they’re running our chat as a Q&A on their front page. Some highlights are below:
In a nutshell, explain why we vote on Tuesdays.
The really short version is there’s no good reason in 2010. And the little bit longer version is because of an antiquated law meant to make voting convenient for the agrarian society of 1845 when the law was passed. At that time, we traveled by horse and buggy. It would take a day or longer to get to the county seat to vote, a day to get back, and you couldn’t vote on days of religious observance, so the weekend was out. Wednesday was market day, so by process of elimination Tuesday became the most convenient day.
It strikes me that we no longer have the same concerns that they had in 1845.
I do not travel often by horse and buggy, and I don’t think that many other people do today either. So what we’re saying is, just like when your computer starts to run slow, you update your operating system, because there’s no point in working with an old system, and our voting system needs an upgrade, we need to go to a voting system 2.0. There’s absolutely no point in voting on a day and in a way that was set for the United States when slavery was still in existence and there were less than half of the current states that there are today.
So would your preferred alternative be making Tuesday a national holiday, or do you want us to vote on a Saturday? Or all weekend? What would be your ideal situation?
We want to start a national dialogue about this issue, election reform, which, I admit, it’s not a sexy issue; it’s a pretty wonky and nerdy issue, but as far as democracy goes, there’s no more important issue. And as far as specifics of the law, in Congress there’s the weekend voting act, which was put forward by Steve Israel on Long island, and that would change Election Day from the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November to the weekend, Saturday and Sunday. Mayor Bloomberg has endorsed it, Barack Obama when I spoke to him said he thought it was a good idea, and San Francisco tomorrow is voting on moving Election Day to the weekend.
What kind of setup do other Western democracies have? Are they all voting on the weekends?
Among the G-8, we rank dead last in voter participation. And when you look at the list of democracies around the world, where we’re ranked 139th out of 172, the top democracies vote on a weekend, vote on a national holiday — some of them, in fairness, have compulsory voting, where you have to show up — but the majority of them are on a weekend or a national holiday.
It seems like a no-brainer. It’s kind of strange, actually, that it’s taken this long for someone to point this out — why are we voting on a Tuesday?
It’s, frankly, silly.
Photo of a ballot stub via my Election Day photo slide show.