Capitol Alert

Should teachers and state workers get Election Day off?

Voters line up to vote on election day at the Columbarium, a cemetery in San Francisco, Nov. 8, 2016. Presidential elections would become state holidays under a recently introduced California bill.
Voters line up to vote on election day at the Columbarium, a cemetery in San Francisco, Nov. 8, 2016. Presidential elections would become state holidays under a recently introduced California bill. New York Times

Presidential and midterm statewide elections would become California holidays under a pair of recently introduced bills, potentially adding California to the ranks of several states that have some version of election holidays.

Assembly Bill 542 by Assemblyman Chris Holden, D-Pasadena, would require community colleges and public schools to close for November presidential elections, and state employees would get a paid day off. Assembly Bill 674 by Assemblyman Evan Low, D-Campbell, would be broader, making all November statewide elections a state holiday.

“This bill would address one of the primary concerns of non-voters that there is not enough time to vote,” according to Holden’s office, with the goal of increasing turnout.

Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, and Maryland were among the states with Election Day holidays as of a 2006 report by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. Their holidays all differ, though.

In Illinois, for example, state employees get the day off, but few other workers do. Maryland’s holiday shutters state offices, with local governments and individual school districts deciding whether to follow suit.

Some members of Congress have pushed the “Democracy Day Act,” which would make elections a federal holiday. “The demands of home, work and family life often make it extraordinarily difficult to find the time to make it to the polls to vote,” then-Rep. Ron Wyden of Oregon, now a U.S. senator, said in 1992.

In 2008, then-Assemblyman Alberto Torrico, D-Fremont, carried legislation to create an Election Day holiday in California – it passed one committee and then stalled.

Yet the election commission’s 2006 report questioned the assumption that election holidays boost turnout.

In the 2000 presidential election, 50 percent of voters turned out nationwide, compared to 50.6 percent of voters in states with election holidays and 49.9 percent of voters in states without one. Four years later, national turnout was 55.3 percent, compared to 55.2 percent in states with election holidays and 55.3 percent in states without one.

“It is evident that an Election Day holiday does not increase voter turnout,” the report said.

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