Want common sense electoral reform? Legalize weekend voting | Jonathan C. Rothermel

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By Jonathan C. Rothermel

Outrage over false claims of voter fraud continues to be instigated by former President Donald Trump and his supporters.  According to a Reuters/Ipsos poll this month, 56 percent of Republicans believe that President Joe Biden won the election due to “illegal voting or election rigging.”

The 2020 election revealed the complexity of the rules of the American election system, including the fact that the rules vary by state. For example, in Pennsylvania first-time voters must register to vote at least 15 days prior to an election. However, in North Dakota, there is no need to register to vote.

Some states were much better prepared to handle a presidential election during a pandemic than others because they had been doing mail-in ballots as a matter of practice prior to the pandemic. In contrast, many other states were forced to make accommodations in the midst of a pandemic.

The differences in rules (e.g., when mail-in ballots could be opened and processed) resulted in large swings in the vote tally on election night and even the days thereafter. This fueled the false accusations of voter fraud, despite the fact that the director of the Cyber Security and Infrastructure Security Agency called the 2020 election “the most secure in American history.”

In the aftermath of the 2020 election, Georgia wasted no time in passing a series of election reform laws that took aim at protecting the sanctity of elections.

Other states, including Pennsylvania and Florida, are following Georgia’s lead.  Critics argue that many of these measures are intended to rollback or suppress voting rights and are motivated by politics rather than a genuine concern for voter fraud.

When it comes to elections, the federal government generally defers to state legislatures, which has the constitutional power to determine the “time, places and manner of holding elections for Senators and Representatives.”

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Congress can “make or alter such regulations” to establish a single day for federal elections, for example. In addition, Congress has passed laws, such as the so-called 1993 Motor Voter Law, to enhance opportunities for citizens to register to vote in their respective states.

Recently, Democrats introduced a sweeping electoral reform bill in the 117th Congress that contains unprecedented federal electoral mandates.

The For the People Act of 2021 would impose strict requirements on states, including automatic voter registration, expanded opportunities for mail-in ballots, same-day voter registration, and online registration – among many other things. Republicans describe it as a “Democratic power grab” and strongly oppose the bill. Twenty Republican state attorneys general have called the bill unconstitutional.

While the bill passed the House of Representatives on March 3, 2021, along partisan lines, its fate is likely doomed in the Senate, where it does not have a filibuster-proof majority to move it forward.

In the meantime, Congress should immediately consider a simpler and logical alternative.  Congress could pass a law to move federal elections to the weekend.

Ever since 1845, federal elections have been held on a Tuesday by congressional statute.  The original reason for selecting Tuesday was because it was practically convenient for an agrarian society dependent on horses as the primary mode of transportation to travel to the county seat to vote. Today we are entering the era of driverless cars, and there are several reasons why this 1845 law should be changed.

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First, voting on Tuesdays is illogical. Moving elections to weekends would offer a more convenient time for voters, and the U.S. would join most major democracies that cast votes over the weekend.

Of the 36 countries of the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, 27 hold elections on the weekend (with most holding them on Sundays).

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), most people work during the week. Tuesdays, according to some surveys, is one of the most productive workdays of the week, so why choose to vote on Tuesday?  It simply does not make sense today. In fact, the aptly named organization, Why Tuesday?, has been asking this question for several years.

Second, weekend voting is more likely to evolve into a family affair. Mothers and fathers would have more time and flexibility on a weekend to bring their children to the polls with them, thereby imparting a sense of civic responsibility to them.

Research shows that voting is a habit best started early in life. Children are highly influenced by parents who model this voting behavior. Voting on Tuesdays while trying to manage work and getting the children off to school does not lend itself to ample opportunities to socialize children into these important lifelong habits.

Finally, in the same Reuters/Ipsos poll cited earlier, 81 percent of respondents said that it was important for the government to make it easier to vote.  While some voting reforms elicit sharp partisan differences (e.g., automatic voter registration), moving federal elections to the weekend could potentially score a rare bipartisan victory.

Of course, no one likes change, and there is some skepticism about the viability of weekend voting.  A 2012 U.S. Government Accountability Office report cited problems with securing voting sites and poll workers, especially over a two-day weekend.

Nonetheless, adopting weekend voting will not give any one party an advantage nor will it address particular concerns about voter fraud, but it will show that even Congress – from time to time – has the ability to make common sense decisions based on reality as opposed to the nostalgic logic of a bygone era.

Isn’t it time for Congress to get off its high horse and admit that voting on a Tuesday is no longer defensible in the 21st century?

Opinion contributor Jonathan C. Rothermel is a political science professor at Mansfield University. His work appears frequently on the Capital-Star’s Commentary Page. Readers may follow him on Twitter @ProfJCR.

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Capital-Star Guest Contributor

The Pennsylvania Capital-Star welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of widening the conversation on how politics and public policy affects the day-to-day lives of people across the commonwealth.