By Cary Brunswick
At the Democratic presidential debate a few weeks ago, I heard Sen. Bernie Sanders point out that more than 63 percent of eligible voters didn’t cast a ballot on Election Day a year ago.
Of course, Sanders was blaming the poor turnout on the need to keep big money out of politics and enact campaign-finance reform. People don’t feel like they have a voice, he insists, so they don’t vote.
I’m sure his position is true to some extent, but certainly does not provide the most common-sense explanation.
For years I have wondered why it seems most countries in the world have their elections on weekends, and especially on Sundays. I recall seeing Associated Press photos of long lines of voters in South America, Central America, Europe and Asia, and the voting was taking place on Sundays.
And the amazing fact is that the voter-turnout rate in those countries is so much higher than ours, it almost makes our smugness about democracy seem like a bad joke. After all, the U.S. ranks 138th out of 172 nations in voter turnout. Just to name a few, France, Germany, Russia and Japan have weekend elections and have much-greater voter turnout than the U.S.
So, as the 37 percent of you voted last year, did you question why you were casting your ballot on a Tuesday? Probably not. Well, the decision goes back to 1845 and actually was quite pragmatic; it’s not like the law was handed down from on high.
The 1840s were the days of horses and buggies, and most people were rural. Common lore has it that it took a day or more for many voters to get to their polling places and back. Weekends, of course, were church days. Wednesday was market day. So, Congress decided on Tuesday for voting.
Obviously, it’s a different world today. Most people can walk a few blocks or drive a few miles to vote. Travel time is not a reason for not voting. But having elections on Tuesdays apparently is.
In surveys, the most common reason registered voters provided for not voting is that getting to the polls conflicts with their work or school schedules. We may not be driving surreys today, but many people have long commutes to work, are laboring long hours, or are working two jobs to make ends meet.
Census data during the past decade shows that the main reason people don’t vote is that it is too inconvenient to get to the polls. So, if the primary reasons are not laziness, ignorance, frustration with campaign financing, and lack of a real choice, then we should seriously consider changing the day of our elections.
It would not be that difficult to do. Changing the day of elections does not require a constitutional amendment, only congressional approval of a bill and the president’s signature.
Bills, however, have been introduced to change election days, the latest in 2012. Of course, first you have to want more people to vote, and the Republicans who are running Congress are notorious for trying to restrict voting rights rather than doing anything that might get more people to the polls.
Why not DST all year?
Another practice worth questioning these days is setting our clocks back an hour to Standard Time, which is scheduled again at 2 a.m. Sunday. Why not stay on Daylight Saving Time all year and make it Standard Time?
Granted, it’s not that pleasant rising before 7 a.m. and finding it still dark outside. But it is no treat either to see darkness fall at 4:30 or 5 or so in the afternoon, which will be the case beginning Sunday for the next two or three months.
Standard Time itself is quite arbitrary, first adopted by the railroads in 1883 so their train schedules in differing time zones would be correct for everyone. The government did not approve Standard Time until 1918.
Except during World War II, Daylight Saving Time was a local or state matter based on their agrarian needs until 1966, when the federal government adopted it. Since then, the dates for ``springing forward and falling back’’ have been tinkered with primarily to suit our needs for energy conservation.Research shows that being on DST, even year round, saves energy and cuts down on evening traffic accidents. In addition, it would be good for the economy because more daylight after work encourages more shopping.