In most democracies around the world voting day is on a Sunday, a weekend, or a voting holiday. This allows most working men and women to make it to the polls without taking time off.
In the United States voting is on a regular Tuesday in November. The organization Why Tuesday? explains that, “In 1845, before Florida, California, and Texas were states or slavery had been abolished, Congress needed to pick a time for Americans to vote. We were an agrarian society. We traveled by horse and buggy. Farmers needed a day to get to the county seat, a day to vote, and a day to get back, without interfering with the three days of worship. So that left Tuesday and Wednesday, but Wednesday was market day. So, Tuesday it was.”
It is no surprise that our society has changed over the course of almost 200 years. The same laws that created conveniences for Americans during the 1840s are now an inconvenience for many Americans.
Many people who are working paycheck to paycheck may not have the luxury to take time to vote. In fact, according the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 7.8 million Americans work two jobs. These working conditions make it even less likely to for them to be able to make it to the polls. Unfortunately, this is also a population whose day-to-day lives, paychecks, and health care are directly impacted by the decisions that Congress is making right now regarding the minimum wage, welfare, Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).
On top of the inconvenience of holding elections on Tuesdays, polls open and close at different times in different states. A state where polls open late and close late may work for voters who get off work at regular times but may not help those whose schedules only allow for free time during the morning.
Thirty-seven states and DC have taken steps to make voting easier for their populations. While election day remains on a Tuesday, these states allow their citizens to vote during times leading up to election day.
A study from the Brennan Center for Justice puts together a strong case for early voting. It argues that “As Americans’ lives become more complex -— for many each day is a struggle to balance the needs of work and family -— confining voting to a single 8- or 12-hour period is simply not reflective of how most voters live. Additionally, having polls open for such a short time can lead to numerous problems, including long lines, as poll workers — who perform the job infrequently at best –struggle to cope with hordes of voters.”
The study finds that some of the key benefits of early voting are:
- Reduced stress on the voting system on Election Day;
- Shorter lines on Election Day;
- Improved poll worker performance;
- Early identification and correction of registration errors and voting system glitches; and
- Greater access to voting and increased voter satisfaction.
While most states have taken the step to allow some form of early voting or no-excuse absentee voting, almost 64 million Americans in 13 states do not have that option.