Editorial: Community leaders, allow Election Day holiday

The Editorial Advisory Board
Topeka Capital-Journal

Coaches at the University of Kansas and Kansas State University have signed statements declaring Election Day a mandatory day off for athletes, ensuring no practice or competition will interfere with getting student athletes to the polls in November.

The coaches made the move at the encouragement of the NCAA, joining the other Big 12 coaches in signing the agreements.

This move from two major Kansas athletic departments has multiple benefits. Logistically, it frees student-athletes, who often have packed schedules between coursework and practice schedules, to make it to the polls on Election Day. It also sends a valuable message about the importance of voting to a population in need of encouragement.

Young voters, generally defined as those between 18-24, are chronically under-represented at the polls. Even in the 2004 presidential election, the high-water mark of youth participation, only 47% of eligible voters between 18-24 cast a ballot.

Typical participation is closer to a third of eligible voters participating, although young voters did make a strong showing in the 2018 midterms, according to Pew Research Center analysis. Healthy democracy requires a wide range of perspectives and interests. Youth participation in the electoral process can only make our democracy stronger.

The United States is somewhat unique in our choice to have elections on days most people are working or attending school. Israel, South Korea, France, Mexico, India and others have government holidays on election days. A majority of other democratic nations, including 27 of the 37 nations in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, hold elections on weekends.

Workers are entitled to two hours of paid time off to vote in Kansas, but the logistics of getting away from work on Election Day, particularly for shift workers and people with long commutes, can still make it difficult to cast a ballot.

An Election Day holiday, particularly when combined with same-day voter registration, more polling place accessibility and voter education initiatives, has the potential to be transformative for American democracy.

The idea is long overdue, but while public support for such a measure builds, private employers and institutions can do their part by making the day an employer-recognized holiday. In recent years, large and small employers have made positive headlines by creating Election Day holidays for employees.

Community leaders in a position to recognize Election Day as a holiday would be casting their votes in favor of a stronger democracy.