House Democrats introduced their first piece of legislation in the new Congress this week, an anti-corruption bill that proposes making Election Day a federal holiday and encourages private employers to give their workers the day off, too. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell dismissed the legislation on the Senate floor, calling it a “power grab” by Democrats. He was subsequently dragged by progressive lawmakers on Twitter, including Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who tweeted that “voting isn’t a ‘power grab.’ It’s democracy, and it’s literally the entire point of our representative government.” But according to the Pew Research Center, Americans on both sides of the aisle support making Election Day a national holiday: 71% of Democrats and 59% of Republicans favor the idea.
Civil rights and voting rights groups have been pushing for years to make Election Day a holiday, arguing it would allow working voters greater opportunity to cast their ballots. The measure has been included in several voting rights bills, including one in 2005 proposed by then New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, but they never passed. Numerous measures have been introduced by Republicans as well, including a 1998 bill that tried to make it a holiday called “Freedom and Democracy Day.”
Despite what history suggests are long odds, USA TODAY spoke to four experts about what it would be like if the United States did actually have Election Day as a holiday.
“Making election day a holiday would transform the culture around voting in our country and most inevitably improve turnout and participation rates across the board,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “Enduring long lines, obtaining access to child care, finding the money to take public transportation to the polls are all real barriers that make it harder for people to exercise their voice on Election Day. By clearing away some of those hurdles, we would inevitably make it easier for people to participate.”