Why isn't Election Day a Holiday?

As Americans queue up to wait for potentially hours to vote, observers from other countries are wondering why Election Day in the U.S. isn't a holiday. In many countries, voting is mandatory, and the day a holiday to ensure people are able to vote. Although some states do require that businesses give their employees time off to vote, many do not.

In Kenya, What An African Woman Thinks is blogging the issue. The blogger writes

I’ve just realised that election day in the US is not a public holiday.

That strikes me as very odd.

In Kenya, not only is it a public holiday, but the day is timed so that people can have ample time to travel significant distances just in case they need to do so in order to cast their vote. That is why it’s usually at the end of the year, after Christmas.

Frankly, it never occurred to me that election day anywhere in the world would not be a public holiday.

Doesn’t that make it harder for some people to vote than others? What if you’re a student and you have an exam on election day and you’re in one of those states where voting only takes place on election day? Or what if you’re working a twelve hour shift that day?

I mean, I know about essential services.


Australian DoctorDi also has something to say about the subject:

Tuesday 4 November. Melbourne Cup Day in Australia, Election Day in the US. Each a race that will stop the nation in which it’s run. One I couldn’t care less about, the other I can’t wait to see declared. Many people I know are going to the races today; most others will be at some Melbourne Cup Day event or other. It’s a public holiday in Victoria. A public holiday. For a horse race. There’s so much about what it is to be an Australian caught up in that one bureaucratic decision – to give an entire state the day off for a day at the trots – that it would take me at least this post to unpack it. But I’m sure you can read plenty into it on your own.

The blogger adds:

By tomorrow there will be a new President Elect of the United States of America. It just seems so ludicrous to me – so patently dangerous and absurd – that thinking about Obama’s chances on this final day of the race means accounting for the weather. It’s not the Melbourne Cup, for Christ’s sake, it’s the leader the free world. I don’t know what names Australians will be shouting and chanting and yelling this afternoon as the race is fought and won in a couple of minutes, but I know which one I’m saying to myself, and I’ll give you a hint: he’s the favourite to win.


  • Kelly

    I was just thinking of that yesterday myself. Why isn’t Election Day a holiday in the US? Now that I’m a little older, I’m lucky enough to have a job that respects your duty to vote and understands if you’re late that morning or leave early in the afternoon to reach your polling place. But in years past it would’ve been impossible for me to vote between going to school and working full time. My polling place was open from 6AM (too late for before work) to 8PM (too early for after class). Many people simply cannot make it to their designated place within the desiganted times.

    Aaah, but that is what absentee ballots are for. They send you a ballot, and you mail it back by a certain time. However, you will only be able to get an absentee ballot if you are determined. Many people do not even know that they are available or how to get one, and local districts do not make it easy for you to find out. Information about voting should be much more accessible and advertised than it is. I don’t think that the government in this country places much importance on encouraging everyone to vote.

  • Kelly,

    I agree – the government here does not place significant emphasis on encouraging folks to vote, and it should!


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