In my last post, I argued against making voting day a national holiday. Then news of Arizona’s primary voting disaster came through and I stopped to reconsider.
If people in Arizona did wait in line for 8 hours to place their vote, then surely they did miss a workday’s worth of time. Many simply can’t afford that.
I wrote my last post from a place of privilege. The polls in my town are open from 7am to 7pm and the lines are short. This past November on election day, I worked a double (actually a triple if you count my result reporting work for Reuters) shift. If it weren’t for the fact that I proudly wore my “I voted sticker” all day (I was working in a school at the time, and voting is something I think is important to role model), my coworkers would have had no idea I’d been to the polls. I didn’t have to miss a second of work.
I probably missed a few seconds of sleep, as I rolled into the polls right when they opened. Would this have been possible for a parent working a double and trying to get her kids to school?
Perhaps not, but assuming that those of us working doubles are getting lower hourly wages which necessitate the extra hours, we should ask ourselves “would a federal holiday make a difference for us workers?” As Dave Jamieson reported for the Huffington Post, “Barely one-third of workers in the lowest 10 percent see paid holidays, compared to 93 percent of workers in the highest 10 percent.” The article provides further statistics on the matter.
I used to work in school aged childcare and I saw firsthand the struggle of working parents when school was closed. Assuming my hypothetical working parent still has to work on election day, and assuming public school is closed, as most they are on federal holidays, she’s now scrambling to find childcare and shelling out her hard earned dollars for it. Voting did not get any easier by making it a federal holiday (I know some schools already close on election day, especially if the school is a polling place. Here in Vermont, most schools are closed on Town Meeting day, a local election day).
Even those who do get paid holidays might see their employers offer election day in lieu of a different holiday or a vacation day. I can only guess that most employers aren’t looking to add to the days they pay people for not working. And let’s not kid ourselves that the government is somehow going to subsides these lost wages. Nationally, we’ve got no guarantee of a single day of paid leave be it a sick day or parental leave, so that’s just not going to happen.
Now back to Arizona. No one should have to wait in line for 8 hours to vote. Period.
We should all be afforded the privilege I had of rolling out of bed, biking to the polls, voting, and returning home in time to get to work on time. (Wait, did this just turn into an essay about bike lanes? Ok, biking is optional).
The state of Arizona actually already has a law requiring employers to give employees paid leave of three hours to vote if their scheduled shift would interfere with it. Three hours should be plenty of time. That sort of law seems like a fantastic compromise to the federal holiday proposal.
What was broken in Arizona was that it took more that 3 hours for some people to vote. There were less polling places open than in previous elections, so people had to drive further and wait among more people to vote.
That needs to change. We need more places to vote. More hours to vote. More people voting, more easily.
As far as days off of work; let’s prioritize medical and parental leave, not election day.
For that hypothetical working parent, let’s throw in better childcare subsidies and a higher minimum wage so they don’t have to work a double.
And bike lanes. That, too.