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S. 1828 (115th): Weekend Voting Act

Should elections be held on the weekend?

The Weekend Voting Act would move elections from Tuesdays to the first full weekend of November and have them last two whole days. It would take effect beginning November 2018, for any federal elections such as president and Congress, but not for state or local elections. This would mean that if it passed, there would be multiple election days in 2018 unless all states & local governments also changed their practices.

It was introduced by Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) as bill S. 1828 in the Senate, and by Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY25) as bill H.R. 1094 in the House.

Context

Election Day is currently held on the first Tuesday after the first Monday of November.

That was established by an 1845 law, designed so that farmers could have a whole day to travel into town if necessary, yet still make it back for “market day” on Wednesdays. The “after the first Monday” part was included so that Election Day would never occur on the Catholic holiday All Saints Day on November 1.

But these days, Pew Research Center found that 14 percent of nonvoters cited “too busy or conflicting schedule” as the main reason why. (That finished third on the list of reasons, behind “didn’t like candidates” with 25 percent and “felt vote wouldn’t make difference” with 15 percent.)

What supporters say

Supporters argue that the current voting day is an anachronism that helped get out the vote during the era of an agricultural economy, but serves to actually inhibit voting in the modern economy.

“Tuesday voting is an outdated, arcane practice that stands in the way of greater voter participation. Congress set Tuesday as Election Day in 1845 because it was the easiest day for farmers back then, but Tuesday voting has no such societal benefit today,” Senate lead sponsor Reed said in a press release.

“Americans should not have to choose between their workday and family responsibilities and participation in our democratic process,” Reed continued. “It is time for Congress to update the law and make it more convenient for Americans to cast their ballots.”

Obama supports

Former President Obama also revealed his support in a 2016 interview with the Rutgers Daily Targum.

“Absolutely,” Obama replied in response to a question about whether it’s time for the U.S. to hold elections on weekends. “We are the only advanced democracy that makes it deliberately difficult for people to vote. And some of it has to do with the nature of our history and our Constitution, where we allow individual states to determine their own processes for structuring elections within certain boundaries.”

“And so everything we can do to make sure that we’re increasing participation is something that we should promote and encourage,” Obama continued. “Our democracy is not going to function well when only half or a third of eligible voters are participating.”

What opponents say

Opponents counter that if you actually want to increase voter turnout, weekend voting would make a negligible — and perhaps even nonexistence — difference.

“Putting elections on the weekend isn’t going to solve low turnout if you don’t have interesting elections,” Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin told the Boston Globe. “If it’s an exciting election and it affects people, they will vote. But if it’s not, they’re not going to come out on a weekend or a weekday, if the only vote is for cemetery commissioner.”

Opponents also note that the percentage of nonvoters citing “too busy or conflicting work schedule,” while certainly substantial, is actually _down_during the few election cycles. Since 2000, it’s gone from being the biggest reason for 21 percent of nonvoters to 14 percent, the third-biggest reason.

Odds of passage

The House version was introduced on February 15 and has attracted 92 cosponsors, all Democrats. It awaits a vote in the House Administration Committee.

The Senate version was introduced on September 18 and has attracted seven cosponsors, all Democrats or Democratic-affiliated independents. It awaits a vote in the Senate Rules and Administration Committee.

With a Republican-controlled Congress, the odds of passage are low.

Last updated Nov 9, 2017. View all GovTrack summaries.

The summary below was written by the Congressional Research Service, which is a nonpartisan division of the Library of Congress, and was published on Sep 18, 2017.


Weekend Voting Act

This bill amends the Revised Statutes of the United States to change the timing for regularly scheduled elections for the House of Representatives, Senate, and electors of the President and Vice President to the first Saturday and Sunday after the first Friday in November.

Each state shall by law establish the hours of operation for polling places.

This bill expresses the sense of Congress that the holding of elections over a weekend should be carried out in a manner which does not interfere with religious practices and should result in cost savings to the taxpayer.