Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson wants to make Election Day a holiday in Michigan. It’s one of many sweeping changes she would like to see in state election law.
As part of the weekly series MichMash, hosts Jake Neher Cheyna Roth talk about the cases for and against making Election Day a state holiday.
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Benson is dreaming big, and in doing so she’s getting out in front of a lot of the conspiracy fueled calls for election reform from some Republicans. It’s a move that could de-politicize some of the election reform discussion, as some of the ideas could receive bipartisan support.
Her ideas include requiring a statewide risk-limiting audit of an election’s results before the state certification, giving clerks more time ahead of Election Day to process ballots and banning open carry of firearms within 100 feet of polling locations.
But one idea that could get support and pushback from both sides of the aisle is making Election Day a state holiday.
Election Day as a holiday is something that exists in other countries, but not in most places in the U.S. It’s an issue that comes up a lot, but never really gets much serious public debate.
“This would actually make it even easier and validate businesses to give their employees the day off so that they can work the elections and serve as election workers.” — Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson
On WDET’s Detroit Today with Stephen Henderson, Benson emphasized that making Election Day a holiday would make it easier to attract more election workers. She says that’s especially important right now with more voters casting absentee ballots. More absentee voters mean there needs to be more of those ballots processed on Election Day, while other poll workers help people cast ballots in person.
“This past year, we were able to make it work through sports teams and other businesses that stepped up, gave their employees the day off, made it a holiday internally,” says Benson. “And that enabled us to essentially fill our needs of staffing the elections. And so, this would actually make it even easier and validate businesses to give their employees the day off so that they can work the elections and serve as election workers.”
Benson also emphasized the “preeminence” that she says Election Day should have in our culture, that it should be a day of celebration of our civic duty to elect our leaders — a celebration of democracy at a time when democracy is under real threat.
“It shouldn’t all come down to just one day.” — Rochester Hills City Clerk Tina Barton
Not everyone is jumping at the idea of making Election Day a state holiday, however. Even some Democrats are saying that it could have unintended consequences. For example, although most schools are closed anyway because they’re being used as polling places, not all of them are, which begs the question: If we’re going to be closing more schools and possibly daycares would that cause childcare problems that would actually make it harder for some people to vote?
Also, would a holiday mean limited public transit schedules, which might make it harder for some people to get to the polls? Would you have to pay all levels of election workers holiday pay, which would make administering elections more expensive?
Tina Barton, a Republican Rochester Hills City Clerk has a lot of those questions, and more. Speaking on MichMash, she explains that one of her biggest concerns has to do with the post office.
If Election Day is a national holiday, would that mean the post office would be closed, she asked.
“We get about 20-25% of our absentee ballots come in on Election Day,” says Barton. “Whether that be through the mail, or people drop them off in person. And the last thing that we want to do is not get someone’s ballot in because the postal service was closed down.”
Benson’s proposal would make Election Day a state holiday, not a national holiday.
Barton’s concerns about the possible unintended consequences of an Election Day holiday have led a Democratic sponsor of legislation to create the holiday to “reconsider” her bill. Although state Sen. Mallory McMorrow (D-Royal Oak) says she still supports the idea, but she says “I’m all-in on an all-of-the-above approach.”
@TinaLBarton gave me some good insight that caused me to reconsider my bill that would have done just that. One example: if it’s a holiday, kids are home from school…making it much harder for parents to have time to get to the polls. We want parents to vote, not get stuck.— Mallory McMorrow (@MalloryMcMorrow) February 3, 2021
While Barton isn’t for or against making Election Day a holiday, one thing she is definitely on board with is getting more people to vote. And she said there are lots of other ways to do that like early, in-person voting.
“That, to me, is the real answer,” she says. “Let’s get early in-person voting in place in Michigan, so that everyone has an opportunity that fits their schedule. And if they get sick on Monday, the day before the election… they’re not trying to get an emergency ballot, or something like that. It shouldn’t all come down to just one day.”
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