Tulsa Public Schools’ decision to make Election Day a holiday for its employees bodes well for the health of Tulsa’s democracy.
The Tulsa Public Schools Board is in the progress of making November 6, Election Day, a holiday for all employees. Through this policy, all school employees will be able to vote without worrying about finding time away from class. Tulsa Public School Board President Suzanne Schreiber said about the move, “It just gives them the opportunity to plan their day around voting and not getting crunched at school.” This plan is similar to ones taken across school districts in the United States, such as Yukon Public Schools (also in Oklahoma). This plan, I believe, should be a stepping stone toward a statewide policy in Oklahoma and the United States as a whole.
Voter turnout in the past few years has been extremely low. According to the non-profit organization VOTE, under 37 percent of all Americans voted in the previous 2014 midterm elections. In Oklahoma specifically, 30.4 percent of those eligible voted, ranking Oklahoma as the 44th of the 50 U.S. states in terms of voter turnout, including the District of Columbia. Low voter turnout is caused by a variety of issues, ranging from voter apathy to access to polling facilities. Low voter turnout hinders the growth of fair elections and weakens our democracy because it does not fully show the choice of every legal American citizen. While 100 percent voter turnout is an impossible task, raising the count helps instill a truthful election.
However, a major cause of low voter turnout is the time required to vote. A Pew Research Center Report in 2014 asked 181 registered voters their reasons for not voting. The study would go on to find that 45 percent of participants in the study reported that they had schedule conflicts with work or school. While the number of participants is too low to be completely representative of the entire United States, it does show a common problem for working Americans. The inability to vote due to work is central to the problem of voter turnout. By creating some form of statewide holiday or policy, we can help promote voter participation by giving citizens the ability to vote when they were previously unable.
There is a similar precedent set for declaring election day a holiday in other countries across the globe. In India, their election day is a national holiday for both public and private employees. This allows everyone the opportunity to vote without the hassle of missing work. Israel follows a similar model where most citizens work in the mornings but are given the afternoon off to vote in their country’s elections. These two countries provide examples on how America can improve its own voter system.
While there may be subtle differences between American voting versus voting in other countries, the idea still remains the same. In addition, a voting holiday would not only improve the ease of those currently unable to vote but also citizens who are currently able to easily participate in the voting process. Allowing citizens the day off breaks the traffic at peak times, such as lunch, and allows people to spread themselves out over the available time frame.
Voting is the most important element of our democracy and we are weakening it by hindering eligible voters. By providing easier access to the voting booth, we both improve the people’s say in the government as well as promote civic responsibility. It promotes an evening playing field for all citizens rather than hindering those who are held back by their employment or financial resources.