Put vote on first Saturday in November

Roland S. Martin // Published May 31, 2008 in The Captital Times
While Democrats continue to be embroiled in their ongoing war over counting votes in Florida and Michigan, everyone else seems to be focused on Nov. 5, when the nation will go to the polls to choose a new president.

But why is Election Day on a Tuesday? Why in the world do we continue to insist on voting on a weekday when we are supposed to be encouraging as many people to vote as possible?

Most of the primaries and caucuses during the past four months took place on Tuesdays, but a number were on Saturdays. This Sunday, voters in Puerto Rico will head to the polls, and many expect a record turnout. What's better than going to church in the morning then making your way to the voting booth?

Officially, Election Day is the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November (depending on the year, it could be Nov. 2 through Nov. 8). Since 1845, this has been the standard practice in this country. Congress wanted a set date to elect a president and members of Congress, and because we were an agricultural society, this was the best day for farmers in rural America to get to the polls. That made a ton of sense. Then. But a lot has changed in the past 163 years, and it's time that our Congress change this unnecessary law.

The purists are likely to argue that everyone knows that a Tuesday in early November is set aside for Election Day. So with that in mind, just leave the election in November. Sure, it would make sense to go with a month during which it's warm in nearly all of the USA, but the consistency of the month also makes sense.

But why not the first Saturday in November? If that date were chosen, the majority of voters wouldn't have to worry about trying to vote before going to work, hoping and praying the lines aren't too long so they can zip in and zip out. The same thing happens in the evening. Folks have to hurry up and finish their work, interrupt meetings, and shut down whatever else they are doing and head to the polls. They are likely to confront long lines, and that discourages some folks from voting. (Now, I don't have much sympathy on this one. We'll stand in line for a concert or movie; and that surely isn't as important as electing a president!)

Saturday is already a day of leisure, and there is no doubt that more Americans would head to the polls on a traditional day off from work.

Because of the excitement generated by this year's campaign, you can bet there will be long lines at the polls, and if there are not enough ballots, we can expect all kinds of delays. Folks will grow frustrated, be afraid to show up to work late, and likely will leave and not come back.

That's just not good for democracy. This is one of those simple decisions that doesn't require a ton of debate. I can't imagine there being major opposition to moving the election date.

In 2004, 71 percent of all eligible voters were registered, according to a story by the Carnegie Reporter, "Election Reform: Lessons From 2004." But of that number, 60.7 percent voted.

Someone is likely to say that with the number of people voting up in 2004 from the number in 2000, that's not bad. But when we see 90 percent of voters in Iraq voting -- and we are trying to instill democracy there! -- it's clear that impediments to voting in the United States aren't helpful.

It would be nice to see the presidential nominees weigh in on this and pledge to change the election date. Let's see a debate moderator ask this question!

Instead of putting up barriers for people wanting to vote, we should be the most open society when it comes to giving our citizens as many options as possible to vote, and moving Election Day from a weekday to a weekend makes a lot of sense.

We can't speak of our cherished democracy around the world if we aren't willing to improve it every chance we get.

Roland S. Martin is a CNN contributor and a talk show host for WVON/AM in Chicago.