It turns out hardly anyone knows the real reason we vote on Tuesdays. It is not in the US Constitution. It is in the California Constitution, but that came after Tuesday voting was established. As with so many things, including daylight savings time and the utter lack of adequate vacation leave for workers, it harkens back to our agrarian roots. In the days when farmers had to farm, do Saturday shopping, then go to church on Sunday (because, of course, everyone went to church in the agrarian days), it took the day after Sunday to buggy over to the county seat to vote. People could manage the trip to arrive by Tuesday. Not particularly compelling these days.
The San Francisco arm of WhyTuesday.org is gathering signatures to add a ballot measure for a test of Saturday voting. For the test, all City polling places in addition to City Hall would be open for a full day of voting on the Saturday immediately preceding the Tuesday election date. No voting machines, but your friendly poll workers and poll monitors and those weary looking people who lurk just beyond the taped signs reading “100 feet from polling place.” In other words, vote on Saturday in the neighborhood.
The objectives seem to be two-fold: increase turnout, which everyone agrees is pitiful, and increase community. To hear the organizers tell it, people actually will walk to the polling place on Saturday en famille, chat up everyone, then vote. Perhaps. And fine if that is the case. But is that enough reason to move voting to a weekend? Why not just provide incentives for block parties. Wouldn’t that be much more effective in building community?
How many stones can we throw at this concept? How do you control all other variables to know if it is Saturday that is increasing turnout? If vote by mail doesn’t markedly increase turnout (it really doesn’t in a big way), why would Saturday voting? Why not two days? What about Jewish people (this is important), who cannot vote on Saturday (having to jam voting into the hours after sundown is massively disrespectful)? Etc.
Then there are the logistical issues essential to a fair election, jeopardized by a Satuday or Sunday – Tuesday combo: ballot custody, voter roll custody, sufficient trained poll workers and poll monitors, etc. The NYTimes (see also for the latest, best healthcare coverage) raised these questions and more, though the paper did consider the idea worthy enough for a few inches of print.
The San Francisco League is deliberating about whether to support a WhyTuesday ballot measure. I predict we will land squarely on “why not?” After all, change promoting increased voter access is consistent with League positions. One key question is: with all the budgetary mayhem in the City, if people can raise $750,000 to fund a test weekend polling day, is that the highest and best use for the money? A few music or art or phys ed teachers back in the schools, anyone?
Watch this space for the League’s decision. LLII.
ps. The reason we have such a miserly number of vacation days is that everyone used to live close to the family. No need to travel to convene for the holidays. And apart from a once-in-a-decade road trip to the Grand Canyon (and that wasn’t until after WWII), no one took vacations. Let loose the bonds of our roots!
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