Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) opposes a Democratic bill that would make election day a federal holiday. He calls it a Democratic “power grab.” Is he right?
The New York Times reports, without questioning the premise, that the bill is “intended to increase voter turnout.”
McConnell says that its real purpose is to allow federal employees, who skew 1) politically active and 2) Democratic, to get paid to spend Election Day working for their party instead of for the taxpayers.
Former Senator Barbara Boxer best summarized the Democratic response to McConnell’s claim: “What is Mitch afraid of? Answer: the people.”
They’re both right.
Boxer is spot-on in noting that Republicans do everything they can to make it difficult for people who probably won’t vote Republican to vote at all by opposing early voting, purging voter lists, closing registration offices in poor and/or black areas, etc.
But McConnell is right about the intent of this specific provision. Its purpose is to let the Democratic Party mobilize a new army of federal employees to staff its volunteer operations on Election Day.
How do I arrive at the conclusion about intent? By observing what the actual effect of the bill would be.
The people in America who have trouble voting don’t work for employers who just automatically say “oh, Congress declared it a holiday? Have it off, with pay!” Some of them are lucky to get Christmas or Thanksgiving off, and if they do it may or may not be paid.
They work at Walmart. They work at McDonald’s. They work in factories. They work in retail establishments that are open seven days a week and sometimes 24 hours a day. And many of them rely on their feet, on a bicycle, or on navigating government mass transit to get here and there.
The only effect on their lives of “Election Day as a federal holiday” is that some of those federal employees might wander into their working establishments for a snack.
If Democrats want to increase voter turnout among the working class, communities of color, etc., they need to be fighting to expand early voting periods, and perhaps to make “Election Day” a 48-hour period, from midnight Friday night to midnight Sunday night. They need to be fighting against voter list purges and voter registration office shutdowns.