Election Day Should Be a Holiday

To give citizens an optimal window of opportunity to vote, businesses should make Election Day, Nov. 4, a paid holiday for all employees. Pro or con?

Pro: Provide a Patriotic Benefit

I love my country. And I’m grateful to raise my son and run my firm in the U.S.

Small businesses like mine, with fewer than 15 employees, typically can’t afford many paid vacation days. Every day that someone’s out, we feel it. But I’m giving everyone a paid day off for Election Day this year.

Why election Day is on a Tuesday and not part of a three-day weekend like President’s Day beats me. But until it’s a paid federal holiday, I consider it my civic duty to make it a full-day paid holiday for everyone at my 22-year-old company. I hope other small businesses will join us.

Why? To me, voting is a patriotic rite. It’s the right all others flow from. But it’s hard to find time to do it right.

I want our operations manager to have the time to vote her conscience even if it’s raining on Nov. 4 and there’s a long line. She lives a long bus ride from our office, her husband works too and often takes their daughter to school. She loyally came to work in a walking cast for weeks last year. And I want her to have the time to volunteer to drive seniors to the polls, which she plans to do this year.

Let’s remind the people we send to Washington that some of America’s real patriots—small-business owners—do more than create the jobs that fuel our economy. Our creativity and patriotism strengthen our democracy, too.

Con: Let’s Be Reasonable

Voting is extremely important, which is why I do it and encourage my employees to as well. In fact, I’ve already voted in the Presidential election with a mail-in ballot. But, for several reasons, all kinds of small businesses, from my medical practice to our hometown hair salon, cannot afford to close for Election Day.

1. It’s not necessary to spend the entire day voting. Polls are open before and after work and during lunch hours. And if the polling place is too far from the office, absentee mail-in ballots make an easy (and fast) solution.

2. My employees have a certain amount of paid time off. Mandating another holiday decreases the number of days they can freely choose to take as a personal or vacation day. Employees who want to take Election Day off are free to do so, but why make everyone use a day that isn’t the most convenient for him or her?

3. If we opened the door to days off for voting, where would we draw the line? National elections, county, city, school board, dog commissioner?

4. We have only 22 days a month to make revenue; taking a day off saps 4% of our monthly bottom line, which we can never gain back. Meanwhile, expenses like rent stay the same or increase.

Simply put, closing the office on Election Day is a luxury small businesses cannot afford.

Opinions and conclusions expressed in the BusinessWeek Debate Room do not necessarily reflect the views of BusinessWeek, BusinessWeek.com, or The McGraw-Hill Companies.

Reader Comments

Allison Fine

Rochelle has it just right here. Election Day is more than checking a box or scanning a ballot. More people need time on Election Day to work at the polls, drive neighbors to their voting precinct, make get-out-the-vote calls for the candidate of choice--in other exercise their full civic responsibility, not just stick to the narrowness lens of participation.
A. Fine

Wendy

Having grown up in a family that ran a small business...

1) No one who does not work for the government is entitled to any days off. Federal holidays are just that, federal. And, trust me, hospitals are open on Memorial Day if you're sick enough.

2) Not everyone agrees that all federal holidays are important. My university felt that MLK day was more important than Columbus day, as a school holiday was called for the former but not the latter. Not every one celebrates Christmas, and other are like my family and celebrate Christmas on the 24th. The extra days off, while nice, aren't used to celebrate anything per se.

3) However, very few people would argue that voting is not important. In fact, civic participation is very important, but voting is the most important civil activity in a democratic government.

Therefore, I feel that Voting Day should become a national holiday.

Reason 1 - Since holidays exist to observe significant events, and since each election is a significant event (see 3), it is only proper to commemorate civic participation. What would MLK want? He'd want blacks (and everyone else) to go out and vote, and his work in that regard is part of the reason federal employees get the day off in the first place. Who helps protect our rights, one of them being voting? Current and past veterans, who have two holidays.

Reason 2 - Since the federal government can't actually force businesses to close on any given day (barring a handful of exceptions), making Voting Day a national holiday would not have to change the behavior of any business.

Reason 3a - However, it might encourage businesses to "show some spirit" (hence why our business did close on Voting Day). After all, businesses are influenced by elections. Polls need voting judges and volunteers to help transport people to the polls, etc.

Reason 3b - Mail-in ballots are great (I've used them since I was old enough to vote), but the deadline is for that is sooner than registering to vote. As such, there are many people who would be eligible to vote in person, but not by mail. Those people should still vote (again, see 3).*

*Okay, my rant. So, our university just got a record number of its students to register to vote. The university spent lots of money and really got into it. Hurray! Yet, oddly, I know not of a single professor that is giving any kind of slack on that day (I have 2 exams, myself). I suspect that if performing my civic duty somehow disrupted my ability to come/do well on the exam, the university would not provide any kind of assistance (such as amending the required excused absence policy to include something other than football). But, we got MLK day off because of his work in civic participation. Cognitive dissonance, anyone?

Kurt Jaehning

Mail-in ballots makes the whole debate moot.

L. Quinn

Of course it should be a holiday. The U.S. has a pathetic voter turnout rate compared with other comparable democracies, and a good part of the reason is that we throw rather large obstacles in the path of your average voter. Without paid leave and with huge lines, voting becomes prohibitive for many.

It shouldn't be. What day is more important to the health and vitality of our democracy?

Dr. Simon's position to preserve the 4% of his bottom line ignores the rights of his employees to meaningful participation in the democratic process. It's one day every two years--deal with it.

R.R.

If you give Tuesday off, what's to stop opportunistic employees from using the preceding Monday as a vacation day, then taking a 4-day trip out of town and not bothering to vote?

Maybe employers should give Election Day as a holiday--but only on the condition that employees work on the Monday beforehand.

Connor

I don't think voting should be an excuse for a holiday. It's a right, a privilege, and a duty. Nowhere in that description is there anything about it being holy or celebratory.

People need to get off their asses and find a way to make it happen. Stop looking for excuses about why you can't vote, and just go do it.

Next thing you know, people will think it's a good idea for schools to pay kids for good grades--nah, that'd never happen.

gms

Both make good points, but Dr. Simon seems more concerned about his bottom line than whether every American is able to exercise their Constitutional right. Americans of all stripes, at one time in our nation's history, have had to fight for the right to vote--and that fight should be celebrated each Election Day. The right to vote is the essence of a democracy, and as such we should be allowed more than an hour or two to celebrate it.

Kir

I agree with Wendy. While it is nice and all to give people the day off for work, it may not serve any real purpose.

Many people use mail-in ballots. In fact, more people are using and being encouraged to use mail-in ballots, instead of attending in person.

Also, not everyone wants to spend a perfectly good day chaperoning seniors (sorry, we aren't all charitable). In fact, humans have often been criticized for their greed. So, the day off would probably be spent lazily, without any benefit to the giver or the taker.

Last, it seems that small businesses are struggling with paid off-days anyway. Why put more strain on your company, when it does not come out to any good? The U.S. economy is failing right now; we may even be heading toward the next Great Depression. Unless I am wrong, that is hitting small businesses pretty hard at the moment. Adding unnecessary strain to that will only hurt the business.

So, I go with Wendy's suggestion: Make it a national holiday and let people pick and choose whether to take it off or not. If they want to spend the day voting and chaperoning/helping other voters, then there is nothing stopping them. But if they have nothing better to do on that day, then have them stay. These days, you need every penny you can get, so closing for no real reason (there aren't even any festivities or stuff for Election Day--at least none that I know of) can hurt your business, and maybe even impair its growth in the long run. So, make it a national holiday, then put the choice into the voter's hands. That is, after all, what that day is all about.

Brenda Bowen

First off, I still don't understand why we vote on a Tuesday, but whatever.

Second, it's one day every four years for crying out loud. Are Americans that cheap and unpatriotic that they are unwilling to close for one day? And just because you don't have to wait to vote (lucky you and me)...have you ever been to portions of Ohio.? My daughter waited in line five hours to vote. It's not just a right; it your civic duty. Now go do it!

Bruce

If online banking is secure, online voting could go that way as well. Save gas, long lines, etc. Do not have a computer? Go to the library. Provide early voting for all states to keep online going smoothly. Once you vote, you can't vote twice. Voter I.D.

Mike

Everyone wants something free at someone else's expense. How about a day off without pay? If taking the entire day to vote is so important and celebratory, how about the employees sharing the cost of closing the business?

sierra

With all the yaka yaka we do about "spreading democracy around the world," we are a disgrace when it comes to voting. Yes, voting days should be holidays. I don't care if they're paid or not; that's not the point. And, to those business owners who cry their eyes out over "lost revenue": Just factor it in like the "cost of doing business." Problem solved.

Mekhong Kurt

This is indeed a contentious issue, all the concerns on all sides carry at least some merit.

What I'm about to suggest could well drive up the costs of holding an election, but it's something I've long thought worth at a close look: lengthening the voting hours, maybe even to a full 24 hours (for people who work in the evenings or graveyard shift).

Several have mentioned using a paper ballot, which is what I do whether I like it or not: I live in Thailand, and the embassy here doesn't have the facilities to allow U.S. citizens to show up to vote. (Happily, the American Chamber of Commerce here does let you drop your ballot off at their offices, and it's placed in a bag--basically, a diplomatic pouch--and the bag is dispatched daily to the U.S.)

There is mention above of the other aspects of an election, such as volunteering for various functions. A 24-hour voting day would allow anyone who wanted to participate at that level to both work and do some volunteer work as well. Sure, it would make for a long day, but at least everyone gets some of what they want.

Another contributer mentioned online voting. Though I'm a computer/Internet addict -- I spend many hours everyday at my computer -- I have reservations, online banking notwithstanding: the French President's personal bank account got hacked the other day! Apparently, just about every method devised for us to cast our votes all have at least one drawback or another. (Think "hanging chads," for instance.)

Another possibility that might help lessen the debate of whether or not the day should be a holiday (paid or not) is to allow voters to drop off their ballots at places such as police stations and fire stations -- they're staffed 24/7 anyway.

As far as I can tell, none of either my own suggestions or those made by others will absolutely assure perfection for anyone, necessarily, let alone everyone. But clearly there is substantial dissatisfaction among some with the current system.

One last point: I do think the present discussion should be limited to the national elections every four years, not every single bond election or the like that may apply to a single neighborhood.

dinkar

It will not help the nation. There are ample ways for a nation as advanced as we are to vote

dw

Not noted here, but since this is a consumer-based economy, I will add this point. Almost every holiday has actually ended up benefiting business in that more sales are made on that day than on any other day. Now as to opening up the length of time for voting, it sounds like a real winner to me. Why not keep the early voting processes going up to the actual election?

Kristen

I think it would be terrific if they at least made Election Day a half day for employees or extended lunch hour so employees would have the chance to vote and still have their lunch.

Voter turnout in this country is poor enough as it is, and I know plenty of people who leave their home at 5:30 a.m. and don't get back home from work until well after dinner. A full day off might not be necessary, but flexibility with the employees should be. If an employee wants to take some extra time during break or lunch, this should be available to him or her on Election Day.

Dennis

Voting should extend to two days or by mail ballot like Oregon.

Strategery

As mentioned earlier, not everyone has a M-F, 9-5 job. Making election day a holiday would not mean that everyone would get the day off. What we need is more ways to vote. Online voting, voting by mail, and traditional polls with extended hours could all be used. The typical 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. polling time is inadequate; if you work an eight-hour day, take an hour lunch, and spend just a half hour each way, that is 10 hours, and the polls are only open 12 hours.

tg

This year, yes.

catherine

In most of Europe, people vote on Sundays. What's wrong with that? Most people have time to go vote on the weekend. Make it extended hours for the folks who work on Sunday so that everyone's voice has a chance to be heard. Waiting in line for five hours to vote strikes me as total nonsense in a country that wants to promote democracy. And who can afford to take 5 hours off work? Not the people paid at minimum wage who are the ones who can make a difference in such a major election.

Dante

Imagine, working people having more time to vote.

Squeezebox

For the past year, Ohio has had voting available for at least a month before the election at the county boards of elections. So far, the experiment has been going well. We also instituted no-excuse-needed applications for absentee ballots. We have record numbers of people voting absentee. I think participation is going up because of those measures. Having the first minority candidate on the top spot doesn't hurt either. I'm a federal empolyee and am entitled to an extra hour off with pay for elections, but I never use it. I just go early in the morning before the crowds arrive at the polls.

An interesting piece of trivia: The puritans had only three holidays--Guy Fawkes Day, Muster Day, and Election Day. Those folks didn't even celebrate Christmas and Easter.

Xiomara

It's hard to say what is technically good or bad when it comes to a day off for election day. On one hand, you have five hour lines. So there goes your quick "one-hour" lunch break. On the other, you people who work in places like hospitals and airports...they don't close for any holiday. So it's hard to figure out the right thing. I think the best thing that places like Ohio and Florida are doing is experimenting with things like early voting. Then you wouldn't have any excuse, right? Even absentee ballots are tricky. Just look at what happened in the 2000 election--many of them "never made it" to be counted. I was one of them since I was a college student then. You can do everything right, but you never know when things can get "lost in the mail." Not implying that it was done purposely or anything, but sometimes you just feel better when you pressed the button or pulled the lever yourself, you know.

Matthew

Voting is supposed to be a thoughtful process, requiring a careful comparison of candidates to the issues of the day. If you are waiting until election day to plan your vote, are you as engaged as you should be? If you really know who you will vote for, why take the chance that you won't be able to make it on Election Day? Get it done early.

ornitorrincus

Why don't you vote on Sunday like most European countries? Here in Spain, we use to take the day before election (Saturday) to think about which is the less disgusting candidate to vote for.

Bikrant K Sharma

Vote and work. It's nice to see people comment on this topic, but I think there should not be any debate that the day should be a holiday or not. The day is important for and everyone in the nation. A reason like I will lose my earnings by giving a paid off is futile as you will lose enormously if the wrong people got a chance to lead you. And it's not that people take this as a holiday to have fun with the family. In my view, the matter should be handled in a different way. There should be a way to vote from anywhere, during any time of the day, like an online procedure. No need of a day off, just a 15 minutes in the working time and you vote and work.

chris

I think we can sacrifice another holiday and have Nov. 4 as an official holiday, since we seem to trumpet our glorious democracy like a band of rabid cheerleaders to the rest of the world 24/7. It wouldn't hurt to actually walk the walk and not just blow a lot of hot air about it.

Yasser, Pakistan

Online procedures for voting are not viable at the current moment because of ID theft issues associated with them. Here are few suggestions I have:

The U.S. population should be able to get some free time to vote without stress. Everything in the U.S. is so time-cramped that people should be given some leeway.

I agree with the comment that the employees should either find replacement for their work, which is difficult, or pay for the cost of closure of business. The contribution of damage done to the closure can be applied using the algorithm derived from salary stats. A simple method would be to have the weight the cost of closure according to the salary value. Salary, after all, is a measure of contribution to the company and assuming a symmetric distribution, the negative effect should be the same in value.

MLC

I have mixed feelings. Maybe it could be a holiday for the Presidential elections only since they are held every four years and during the other years, employers could work with employees to allow them extra time to vote. Maybe work a half day or two-thirds of a day.

Tom

If we do make it a holiday, we'd better move it to Wednesday. Otherwise, we will have the world's largest "blue flu" Monday. Even Wednesday won't eliminate the problem. Too many Americans don't vote, and making it a holiday and paying them will not change that.

Eric

We should be voting via the Internet by now, instead of through a mishmash of clunky voting machines, portable computers, and paper ballots. Why is one of the most important aspects of democracy still in the Stone Age? No lines, better control. Lots of people around here leave for work before the polls open and make it back after they close. Voting in makeshift polling places is an anachronism as pointless and inappropriate as the Electoral College.

Octimus

I've got a better idea: Let's give the Congress, House, and executive branches of the U.S. Government a 364-day holiday every year but leap year, when--of course, we give them 365 days off. On the one day each year they meet (I don't expect them ever to do any work), let's make the office hours from 11:00 AM until Noon--with an hour for lunch.

Think how much less of the taxpayers' money they would be able to spend (waste?) on that schedule. Until we are able to elect representatives, Senators, Presidents, and vice-presidents who work for the taxpayers--and not for themselves and their "earmarks" (read bribes) to buy votes to keep them in office, I'd prefer to have them do as little as possible. Also, let's cut the election cycle to no more than one month--this would greatly reduce the amount of money office seekers need to raise from favor-seeking lobbyists. And it would spare us from endless analysis of political campaigning from countless talking heads, columnists, and pundits of all persuasions.

dc

Election day should be a holiday. Voting should be a legal requirement with a monetary penalty for failure to vote. A "none of the above" box should be required for each office on the ballot.
Either end the farce of optional "public financing," or make it mandatory.

Patrick Devogelaere

Voting is the moral duty of free people; therefore you should contribute within your own time and not ask for a holiday. I wish you all a moment of wisdom and good faith when voting. You deserve better then what you get now.

Friend of the people of your great nation,
Patrick, Antwerp, Belgium

George Dragnich

In Australia, voting is compulsory, and elections are always held on a Saturday to facilitate voting. It would not be a big deal to amend the Constitution to change Tuesday to Saturday (those with religious issues or weekend jobs could vote absentee, like I just did).

If someone thought their Saturday activities were more important than voting (and could not be bothered to request a mail ballot), they probably don't meet the Jeffersonian test of an informed electorate anyway.

Vincent Marzocchi

Voting can be difficult at the very same time. For a student like me, a 21 year old male attending college full time, I barely have time to brush my teeth in the morning. It's class all day, and work all night for me. It's my age group that has the lowest percentage rate of voting, too. Just a thought.

ruthie_1721

Voting is a duty. It is not a holiday and should be treated as a duty.

DLM

So hold Election Days on Saturdays--or perhaps that would interfere with religious observances?

dh

No, never, forget it!

If you did, we would likely observe a disproportionate group of folks voting early and then going to the bar and watching the election unfold over some gin and juice or PBR.

Get your rear out of bed and drag it to the polls.

boots

Yes, it should be a holiday. What a good idea. There should also be a weekend designated for early voting. Let's say one week before November 4th. I live in Ohio and voted a month before election. I feel that I didn't get all of the information I needed to make as informed a vote as possible as new details about politicians and issues emerged, but as I would be out of town working these last weeks, it gave me an opportunity to vote, which I feel is also my duty. Making sure people are off work would help many of us cast our ballot.

Jack

I would be in favor of Election Day off, if it were necessary. But first, I would try:

1. Mail-in ballots available at work and elsewhere with encouragement and instructions from employers.

2. Time off to vote if necessary and feasible.

3. Extended voting days, as is the practice in a growing number of states.

4. Improved systems at polling places so that a large number of people can be handled in a very short time. That would limit the amount of time an employee would be away from work and may even eliminate the need for him/her to vote during work hours.

Newt

Uh, duh: Put it on a weekend. In fact, make it all weekend long, if you can find the polling personnel.

Let's just call it like it is; they keep election day on a work day to try to get you to stay home. Any questions?

tim

Pro: Make it a holiday.

Henry

Where do you draw the line? Should grocery stores, gas stations, hospitals, restaurants, and pharmacies close as well? If they do, the country will be paralyzed. If they don't, their employees will not have the same ability to vote. You can never win this argument either way. In Florida we have been voting for the past two weeks (including weekends). Why doesn't the whole country do this?

RE Mant

As it is most people must vote before work or after, which means very long lines at those times and nearly no one during the day, which was also the case today. In addition, there has been a movement to vote early that has escalated since 2000, when 16% voted early. In 2004, 22% did, and this year it is estimated to be one-third. Some voted as early as a month ago. This is not only unfair and precipitous, it is unconstitutional. The Constitution clearly states that the electors shall all be chosen on the same day, nationwide.

ryan

Ha ha, losers.

shane

Yes holiday. What are you guys afraid of, that the real workers won't be there to do your jobs for you? Make it a holiday, and get a real perspective on what all Americans want, chickens.

Katja

Since democracy is so important to the U.S. that we actually fight wars to promote it, voting should be definately a national holiday in our own country, at least for the Presidential elections.

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