CITIZEN VOICES® Make primary, Election Days state holidays?
Feb 12, 2019
New Hampshire voters can have difficulty making it to the polls amid work and family obligations. Polling places tend to be heavily congested around lunchtime and 5 p.m. Rep. Ellen Read has proposed HB 506, a bill that would create a legal holiday for state primary and general election voting days.
Technically Election Day is already a state holiday, but primary day is not, and public and private employers have flexibility to choose how to observe the holiday.
This legislation would require public offices, school districts, public colleges and universities to close on voting days. However, it would allow poll workers and essential government workers to continue working. It would require private employers to give their employees up to three hours to cast their votes “when practicable”.
History of Election Day
The United States has been voting on a Tuesday since 1845. This was convenient for farmers who needed time to travel to the polls and vote without interfering with their religious rituals or “market day.” The month of November — after the fall harvest but before the harsh conditions of winter — was also chosen to meet the needs of a largely-agrarian society.
In recent years Rep. Read has sponsored similar bills to make voting days full holidays in New Hampshire.
Sen. Jay Kahn is also sponsoring SB 153 this year. That bill would proclaim primary and election days state holidays, but would not require public offices or schools to close. SB 153 also does not require that employers give employees time to vote.
Support for voting holidays
Advocates for HB 506, Rep. Read’s bill, argue that making primary and Election Day holidays would help increase voter turnout. Voter participation in the U.S. lags behind that of most developed countries. In most elections – 2016 excepted – the most common reason registered voters gave for not making it to the polls is that they were too busy or had a schedule conflict.
Other supporters argue that schools should close on primary and election day to prevent safety issues related to traffic and voters carrying concealed firearms.
Against voting holidays
Opponents also argue HB 506 would have unintended consequences on government payroll expenditures, since firefighters and other essential government employees would be paid holiday time.
Opponents also argue the bill would unfairly impose on private businesses. Polls are typically open for about twelve hours, and if work obligations prevent a voter from making it to the polls during that window, they already have the right to request an absentee ballot. Meanwhile working parents will have another day they have to find childcare for school age children.