Would making Election Day a holiday increase voter turnout? Some city councilors think so
A proposal before the City Council would make Election Day in Boston a municipal holiday — part of an effort, supporters said, to encourage more people to vote.
“Ultimately, this is an issue of equity,” said City Councilor Matt O’Malley, who introduced the measure at Wednesday’s meeting. “Voting during the workday limits the participation of those unable to afford to take time off work. If we want to give disadvantaged people throughout our city a stronger voice in our electoral process, this is a fine place to start.”
Under the proposal, the city would create an additional paid day off, or shift the time off from another holiday, such as Columbus Day or Presidents’ Day. The measure, which is awaiting a hearing, would apply only to those who work for the city — but O’Malley said he hopes private employers would follow suit.
If the plan passes, Boston would be the first city in Massachusetts to have an Election Day holiday, O’Malley said. But more than a dozen other states have made Election Day a public holiday.
O’Malley called the current system — voting on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November — outdated. He traced it back to a 19th Century attempt to not interfere with the Sabbath and to minimize interruptions in agricultural production.
“In 2019, it’s an arbitrary and capricious day,” he said.
On average, a quarter of registered voters in Boston cast ballots in municipal elections from 2009 to 2017.
The City Council’s president, Andrea Campbell, welcomed the proposal as another effort to address low turnout in municipal elections. Earlier this year, the council held a hearing on whether to offer early voting for city elections. In 2016, early voting began for state and federal elections that occur every other November.
“With early voting, we have heard from constituents and residents that they appreciate the flexibility,” Campbell said. “But obviously this [proposed holiday] is taking it a step further.”
The council plans to schedule a hearing in coming months that would include testimony from public-sector unions and voting rights organizations, O’Malley said.
With this fall’s elections approaching, he is optimistic the city can establish the holiday in time for the 2020 presidential election, he said. “There’s a tremendous appetite for this, and I’m hoping to get it done in the next year,” O’Malley added.