Voter turnout in the District is generally abysmal. With rare exceptions — a presidential election with an African American at the head of the ticket, for example — turnout in the city falls at the lower end of a national spectrum that is pretty poor to begin with. In some ways this is no surprise; for those of us living in the District, voting can be a drag. First, we have no voting representation in Congress. Second, the general elections are almost always pro forma; the District is so overwhelmingly Democratic that the only contest that matters is the Democratic primary. Those issues aren’t likely to change anytime soon, but that doesn’t mean turnout has to remain at such low levels. The District is ripe for a dramatic experiment that could show how changing the rules and processes could significantly increase voter participation. Unlike North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Texas, where lawmakers have tried multiple ways to suppress votes to maintain partisan political advantage, the climate here isn’t hostile to voters. Rather, there is every reason for political figures, election officials and citizens to work together to create a healthier democracy. This creates a great opportunity to use the District as a laboratory for cutting-edge ideas.
Here is what the city should do:
1 Move Election Day to the weekend. As the group whyTuesday.org has pointed out, the practice of holding elections on Tuesdays stems from an 1845 law meant to accommodate an agrarian society that is long gone. Today, voting on a workday is a burden for most Americans, and it just isn’t necessary. The District is free to move its local elections to the weekend. Ideally, Election Day would be a 24-hour period running from noon Saturday to noon Sunday, to avoid both religious conflicts and the inevitable morning and evening “rush hours” created by voters flocking to the polls before and after work. But if voting over two days is too onerous or expensive, the city could have Election Day on either Saturday or Sunday, with early voting a few days beforehand for those who are away on the weekend or can’t vote on the Sabbath.