Instead of attending class on Tuesday, I spent the day calling Kansas residents to remind them to vote. Mainly, I did so because I’m paid to — I work for one of the two major Kansas political parties. But there’s another reason to skip: Seabury should not have classes on Election Day in the first place.
We have a problem with voter turnout in the United States. Even in high-profile presidential election years, fewer than sixty percent of Americans participate. Diverse factors contribute to this problem, including voter apathy and disillusionment. Still, low turnout is mostly a policy problem: for many, voting is far from easy. State and local governments have made it intentionally difficult to cast a ballot. Voter registration deadlines, for example, disenfranchise millions of potential voters. Some attempts at stifling turnout are more obvious: in North Carolina last week, police used pepper spray to force mostly minority voters away from a polling place. But one nationally-relevant reason is more simple: people are just too busy.
Fortunately, this latter problem has a simple solution: declaring Election Day a national holiday. Long and rigid work hours make it difficult to make a plan to vote, especially for lower-income groups. For students, particularly the small and often inactive group of voters who are still in high school, busy schedules have the same deterrent effect. Giving more workers and students the day off would certainly reduce work-related stress and encourage participation in elections. Unfortunately, legislative gridlock may prevent any holiday declaration from being passed for years. In the meantime, private institutions like Seabury should give students and employees the day off.
There’s another key reason to give students the day off: it would give voting the attention that it deserves. In places that commemorate elections with a holiday, voting is celebrated. In Puerto Rico, for example, Election Day features parades, parties, and marches to polling places. Unfortunately, most Americans cram a trip to the polls into a normal work day, and voting is treated like a chore. Seabury cannot, of course, solve this national problem. We can, however, encourage students and teachers to celebrate voting by making Election Day a school holiday. Democracy is worth celebrating, and Seabury should treat it as such.
By the next major election, I will likely be in college (if I graduate), so I have less stake in this than most. Still, I hope that Seabury will never again have classes on Election Day. If we truly care about civic engagement and voting, we should act like it.