Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced Sunday that he signed a series of new measures into law aimed at expanding access to voting in the commonwealth. The new legislation will establish Election Day as a holiday, remove the requirement that voters show a photo ID prior to casting a ballot and, expand early voting to be allowed 45 days before an election without a stated reason. “Voting is a fundamental right, and these new laws strengthen our democracy by making it easier to cast a ballot, not harder,” Northam said in a statement. “No matter who you are or where you live in Virginia, your voice deserves to be heard. I’m proud to sign these bills into law.” Several states and cities have already made Election Day a civic holiday, including Delaware, Hawaii, Kentucky and New York. State offices typically close, though it depends on the state whether employees are entitled to paid time off to vote.
North Carolina: Elections board wants to make Election Day a holiday because of virus | Travis Fain/WRAL
The State Board of Elections recommended more than a dozen changes to state election laws Thursday in response to COVID-19, including making Election Day a state holiday. Most of the suggestions stem from an expected uptick in absentee voting by mail. Among other things, state Elections Director Karen Brinson Bell will ask the General Assembly to pay postage on absentee ballots, make it easier to request absentee ballots and to ease witnessing requirements when people vote by mail. She laid out the requests in a six-page letter. “We believe the legislative recommendations released today would go a long way toward ensuring safe, accessible elections in 2020,” Brinson Bell said in news release accompanying the letter. “We look forward to continuing to work with the General Assembly to respond to the unprecedented threat facing our elections system at this time.” Legislative leaders have said they’ll consider changes, but the process will have a lot of eyes on it. North Carolina tightened its absentee ballot rules last year after an illegal ballot-harvesting campaign forced a do-over election in the state’s 9th Congressional District.
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.
National: McConnell says bill that would make Election Day a federal holiday is a ‘power grab’ by Democrats | The Washington Post
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Wednesday that a Democratic bill that would make Election Day a federal holiday is a “power grab,” sparking a fierce backlash online. McConnell was speaking about H.R. 1, legislation that Democrats have made a centerpiece of their agenda since retaking the House earlier this month. In remarks on the Senate floor, McConnell (R-Ky.) said Democrats “want taxpayers on the hook for generous new benefits for federal bureaucrats and government employees,” including making Election Day a “new paid holiday for government workers.” “So this is the Democrats’ plan to ‘restore democracy,’” McConnell said, describing the legislation as “a political power grab that’s smelling more and more like what it is.”
The Virginia House of Delegates voted Tuesday to require all public schools to treat Election Day as a school holiday. The bill, pitched as a school safety measure that would prevent interactions between voters and children, was approved on a 97-1 vote. “It’s impossible for the schools to properly screen each individual entering the building without slowing down the voting lines,” said Del. Paul Krizek, D-Fairfax, patron of House Bill 1752. “This creates a security concern because it potentially allows strangers unwarranted access to the school building.” Most school systems already have special schedules on Election Day that keep children at home, including the four largest school systems in the Richmond area. Under the proposed law, local school leaders would no longer have the option of keeping school buildings open to students. Only a handful of counties have chosen to continue holding classes on Election Day, but around 30 school divisions don’t have a set policy on the matter, according to Krizek.
If they didn’t know already, the breakdowns on Election Day reminded voters that New York has some of the most antiquated voting laws and processes in the country. From a lack of early voting to the fact that voters must declare a party affiliation more than six months before a primary, New York can make voting hard. “On this issue, we’re way far behind. New York is one of only 13 states that doesn’t have early voting,” said Susan Lerner, the executive director of advocacy group Common Cause New York. “Texas adopted early voting in 1996. So it’s embarrassing.”
Maldives government has declared September 23 a public holiday to allow people to vote in the presidential elections slated for that day. President’s Office spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz Ali in a Tweet said incumbent president Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom had declared Sunday, September 23 a public holiday to allow people to vote without work related commitments. The decision came after the country’s top court rejected a motion to declare elections day a public holiday.
The Malaysian prime minister on Wednesday declared voting day on May 9 a public holiday after a decision to hold elections on a workday triggered complaints that it would deter mainly opposition supporters. The surprise move is seen as a bid to ease public anger a day after the Election Commission announced that voting will be held on a Wednesday, departing from the norm of having it on a weekend. The weekday vote triggered a flurry of complains that it would deter thousands of Malaysians from returning to their hometown to vote. Some companies responded by giving their employees days off and offering to pay for their travel back home to vote. The hashtag “PulangMengundi” (Go home to vote) trended on Twitter, with many Malaysians offering financial assistance and car pool to those travelling back to vote.
Idaho students will continue going to school on election day. Legislation to declare a school holiday on every election day in Idaho was killed in the House Education Committee on Monday after it drew strong opposition from school boards and school districts across the state. The measure was designed to allow schools to serve as polling places without creating any danger to kids from all the strangers coming to campus. Chief Deputy Ada County Clerk Phil McGrane said the bill envisioned moving teacher professional development days to election days, so teachers still could be on campus, but not students.
Many Californians would no longer have to worry about squeezing a trip to the polls into their working day if a bill proposed by a Silicon Valley lawmaker becomes law. Assembly Bill 674, authored by Evan Low, D-Cupertino, would make November elections on even years a holiday for schools and state workers as a way to boost voter turnout. Private businesses would not be required to close, but Low said he hoped many would choose to give their employees the day off. “I think this will ensure that more people will be able to participate in the electoral process,” Low said in an interview Thursday.
The recent dismal voter turnouts in New York are fostering a slew of ideas to encourage people to exercise what should be their cherished right. Just 29 percent of those eligible cast ballots during the 2014 statewide races, ranking it second to last for turnout among the 50 states, according to the group Nonprofit VOTE. The most recent presidential election turnout was the lowest since 1940, according to the U.S. Election Project. A new plan would turn the first Tuesday following the first Monday in November each year into a school holiday. But suspending education on Election Day, a measure that is being pushed by a couple of state lawmakers, is hardly a remedy for the problem of low turnout. It’s not the presence of young people in school buildings that is keeping would-be voters away. Many real obstacles, ranging from sloppy record-keeping to arcane rules and regulations, are a big cause. The most challenging hurdle may be voter apathy, fueled by an acrimonious political climate.
The Election Day holiday will cost the economy about NIS 1.7 billion in lost output, the Manufacturers Association said on Sunday. “However important the business sector regards the democratic process, we must examine whether the goal of increasing voter turnout justifies the heavy cost to the economy,” said the association’s president, Zvi Oren. “We need to search for a mechanism whereby output isn’t hurt and voting is nonetheless encouraged, like placing ballot boxes in central areas of employment.” The nationwide vacation will cost the business sector about NIS 1.17 billion, of which NIS 280 million will be carried by the country’s manufacturers, said the association, which represents the country’s biggest companies. Lost output in the public sector accounts for the rest, it said.