Is there any way to improve voter turnout in this country?
Since 1950, average voter turnout for federal elections has been below 50 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. It's far less in non-presidential years. Of 178 democratic nations on earth, we rank 138th in voter participation and dead last among the G-8 nations. Not exactly a badge of honor for the world's leading participatory democracy.
One solution to this embarrassment is to eliminate one of the dumber traditions we still cling to in America voting on Tuesdays.
Tuesday voting once made sense. Two centuries ago, voting could take two days: one to get to the county seat to vote and another to get back for market day, typically Wednesdays in a then-agrarian society. You couldn't travel on Sundays that was the Sabbath you couldn't hold elections in the spring or fall because farmers were either planting or harvesting, and wintertime was too cold.
So in 1845, Congress decided all national elections would be held on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November.
All bribes, however, would be accepted only on the third Wednesday after the second Friday of every other month, but that's another story.
Seriously, the rationale back then was what it should be today: Choose a day that's most convenient to vote. Tuesday is no longer convenient. According to census surveys, one in four eligible voters say their schedule simply doesn't allow time to vote.
It's understandable. Time easily slips by while juggling various obligations on a busy weekday when the polls close at 7 or 8 p.m. People are working, maybe more than one job. They're in school or they might be single parents this might especially be true among the nation's 46 million 18-to-29-year-olds, the second-largest voting bloc in this country, yet the one in which turnout tends to be lowest.
True, early voting seems to be remedying some of this. With a week to go before the election, 18 percent of registered voters had already voted, according to Reuters, but consider:
Fifteen states have Tuesday-only voting. No early voting, no voting by mail. Tuesday only, in person only, in 15 states where 65.5 million eligible voters live.
And, what if last Tuesday had been Election Day, the day after Hurricane Sandy hammered the nation's most populous corridor? By then, 8.6 million people had lost power, including folks in North Carolina, Virginia, New Hampshire and Ohio all swing states. In Ohio alone that day, more than a quarter-million people were in the dark.
In an interview with New York magazine, comedian Chris Rock joked, "They don't want you to vote. If they did, they wouldn't have it on a Tuesday in November. Have you ever thrown a party on a Tuesday? No, because no one would show up."
"Tuesday voting is the big elephant in the room when it comes to voter suppression," says Jacob Soboroff of Why Tuesday?, a nonpartisan organization dedicated to increasing voter turnout.
Covering the Republican primaries for the Huffington Post, Soboroff caught up with several candidates and other political figures to ask if they knew why we vote on Tuesday. Nobody did, which seems a little head-scratchy since they all live for that Tuesday vote.
The solution that Soboroff's organization advocates is weekend voting. It's a logical fit for a nation that's evolved from its agrarian roots to an urban industrial society that rearranged time to make weekends more preferable for Americans. Globally, democratic nations with weekend voting have the highest turnout rates.
Two congressmen Steve Israel, D-N.Y., and John Larson, D-Conn. introduced the Weekend Voting Act last month to move election dates from Tuesday to the weekend.
Another popular suggestion: make Election Day a national holiday, although holidays tend to be celebratory, and given our cynical attitude toward politics, it may not feel like much of a holiday. But at least we'd get another mattress sale.
I say we vote on April 15 when our love for government is at an all-time high. Just kidding.
Thomas Paine once said: "Voting is the right upon which all other rights are protected." No magic bullet can guarantee increased voter participation, but there's no sense in continuing a tradition that continues to guarantee terrible voter turnout, is there?