McConnell Opposes National Holiday for Voting

His critique is rather telling.

Via WaPo:  McConnell says bill that would make Election Day a federal holiday is a ‘power grab’ by Democrats.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Wednesday that a Democratic bill that would make Election Day a federal holiday is a “power grab,” sparking a fierce backlash online.

McConnell was speaking about H.R. 1, legislation that Democrats have made a centerpiece of their agenda since retaking the House earlier this month.

In remarks on the Senate floor, McConnell (R-Ky.) said Democrats “want taxpayers on the hook for generous new benefits for federal bureaucrats and government employees,” including making Election Day a “new paid holiday for government workers.”

“So this is the Democrats’ plan to ‘restore democracy,'” McConnell said, describing the legislation as “a political power grab that’s smelling more and more like what it is.”

I will start with full disclosure:  I have long favored making election day a holiday.  There is no doubt that doing so would increase access to the polls by voters.  I recognize it is not a perfect solution and there is a debate to be had between a holiday or weekend voting (or both) plus issues like early voting, voting by mail, and a host of variables one could consider.  Nonetheless, it is clear that having election day on a workday makes it difficult for large numbers of Americans to vote, and so it is axiomatic to state that making it a national holiday would increase voter access to the ballot box.  Almost all other representative democracies have elections on a holiday or a weekend (Sunday is a common example in Latin American elections, for example).

Note that we vote on Tuesday based on the notion that people needed a travel day to come to town to vote.  Since travel on a Sunday was out of the question, Monday became the travel day and Tuesday election day. This is not some fancy Framer theory about the appropriateness of Tuesdays; it is a pre-industrial electoral calendar.  Note, too, that this is set by statute, so we are not talking about a constitutional issue here.

Back to McConnell:  he is laying bare the fact that he and his party are opposed to making voting easier because they fear it will hurt them at the polls.  While this is perfectly understandable from a power politics point-of-view, it nonetheless demonstrates contempt for elections, and therefore for representative democracy.

“H.R. 1 would victimize every American taxpayer by pouring their money into expensive new subsidies that don’t even pass the laugh test,” McConnell said on the Senate floor.

What doesn’t pass the laugh test is the current Republican Leadership pretending like they are driven by fiscal concerns about much of anything (see, e.g., the 2017 tax bill and the recent government shutdown).  Further, if he was truly concerned about the cost factor, then propose to combine election day with an existing holiday, thus making it cost-neutral.

For example:

Walter Shaub, a former director of the Office of Government Ethics, noted that a significant number of federal workers are military veterans and suggested combining Election Day with Veterans Day, a proposal that has made the rounds in recent years.

“A ‘power grab’ to let people vote?” Shaub said in a tweet. “He also says it’s just a holiday for bureaucrats, almost ⅓ of whom are veterans. How about McConnell compromises by moving Veterans Day to the 1st Tuesday in November? What better way to honor veterans than by making it easier for them to vote?”

Again, I thoroughly understand the power politics.  Still, it cannot be stressed enough that McConnell is clearly stating here that making it easier to vote helps Democrats.  It is an admission that his party gains from making it harder to vote.  He is admitting that his party gains an advantage because the game is stacked in his party’s favor, not because they face over with their opponents on a fully level field.

It is a contemptible position if one values representative democracy.

By the way, while supporting this reform does not make Democratic motives pure, since they know it helps their power position, nonetheless theirs is the virtuous position.  There is no argument to be had for making it harder for citizens to vote, not if one respects democracy.*


*If you want to try “we are a republic, not a democracy” do not pass Go, do not collect $200, go here.

FILED UNDER: US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is Professor of Political Science and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Troy University. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. Teve says:

    *If you want to try “we are a republic, not a democracy” do not pass Go, do not collect $200, go here.

    20 years ago I used to have an older liberal friend who was a librarian at a college here in the deep South. Sadly he passed away a few years ago from pancreatic cancer. But I have several memories of him that I will cherish for the rest of my life, like the time I saw somebody pull that phrase out on him at a party, and he just demurred with a nonchalant smile. He was a charming and elegant guy.

    2 hours later we’re out in the parking lot getting in his car to leave, and out of the blue he mumbles, “I’ve got a master’s in American history and another masters in political science don’t try to tell me what kind of government we have you fucking hillbilly.” 😀

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  2. Mister Bluster says:

    If the Senator from the Bluegrass State had his way all elections would be held
    on the Second Tuesday of next week.

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  3. gVOR08 says:

    By the way, while supporting this reform does not make Democratic motives pure, since they know it helps their power position, nonetheless theirs is the virtuous position.

    That’s the beauty thing about being a liberal – you can do well by doing good.

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  4. Franklin says:

    It’s not uncommon for people to have the notion that rich, powerful people must be rich and powerful because they’re smart. And that only smart people should be allowed to vote.

    The people working their butt off just to get by? According to Mitch “I’ve only got one chin, but it’s also a neck” McConnell, they’re probably not smart enough to vote.

  5. Timothy Watson says:

    How many days is the Senate scheduled to be in session this year? And how much are we paying Senators like the Turtle?

  6. Monala says:

    In a prior post, I said I didn’t like the idea of a federal holiday for voting, because it would likely exclude low-wage workers who already have difficulty getting time off from work to vote, since it’s unlikely that retail stores and eateries would close that day.

    However, I like some of the ideas in this post, especially Sunday voting and a Veteran’s Day/voting day combo. Both still run into the retail worker problem, but Sunday less so since many stores have shorter Sunday hours. And Veteran’s Day/voting day has the advantage of really making connections between our freedom (since many people connect the military to freedom) and the importance of voting.

  7. An Interested Party says:

    By the way, while supporting this reform does not make Democratic motives pure, since they know it helps their power position, nonetheless theirs is the virtuous position.

    From this to trying to help make sure that more people have health insurance, among other issues, it seems like the Democratic position is often the virtuous position, while the Republican position often is, as McConnell so ably demonstrates, contemptible…

  8. Teve says:

    Kevin M. Kruse
    @KevinMKruse

    When you insist that a bill designed to support voting rights for everyone, shine a light on billionaire donors, crack down on lobbyists’ influence and protect our elections from foreign interference would just help Democrats, that’s a pretty big tell.

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  9. Gustopher says:

    @Monala: I wouldn’t want Veteran’s Day to be overwhelmed by election results coming in — we would lose the meaning of Veteran’s Day in the shuffle.

    I would support moving Veteran’s Day to a Sunday, and having three days of voting though.

  10. Gustopher says:

    By the way, while supporting this reform does not make Democratic motives pure, since they know it helps their power position, nonetheless theirs is the virtuous position.

    Republicans’ base of support is uneducated white men. I’m not convinced that they have a particularly easy time of getting to the polls on a work day. It may not be as dramatic as all that, beyond more participation.

    And, anyway, there is nothing stopping the Republicans from appealing to more voters (other than the Republicans).

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  11. Teve says:

    @Gustopher: elderly retired white people are more likely than any other group to watch Fox news all day, and also have all day to vote. Which largely explains why they vote at twice the rate of people in their twenties.

  12. Richard Gardner says:

    I live in a vote by mail state and looked at the Nov 6 election for my county. Making some assumptions, at least 80% of ballots were mailed or dropped off before election day. Total turnout 61%. The earliest ballots arrived Sept 28, and the last few (39) on Nov 26. Looking at turnout by state, the worst state was Hawaii, no idea why.

  13. Teve says:

    And, anyway, there is nothing stopping the Republicans from appealing to more voters (other than the Republicans).

    their base stops them. Rural, older, less educated, more religious, angry, entitled white men are their base. You try to simultaneously appeal to them, and any other significant demographic. They’re stuck with a toxic base that was enormous in Nixon’s day and been shrinking for 50 years.

    “We’re not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term.”
    -Lindsey Graham, 2012

  14. Mister Bluster says:

    toxic base that was enormous in Nixon’s day

    Just saw a clip on MSNBC of Nixon’s 1974 State of the Union speech 45 years ago today.
    “…one year of Watergate investigation is enough…”
    Tricky Dick resigned in August of that year.
    Maybe we should celebrate the delivery of the State of the Union speech as a National holiday…

  15. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Richard Gardner: Fewer citizens there because it only became a state in 1959. 😉

  16. James Joyner says:

    I agree completely with Steven’s OP.

    I would additionally highlight this:

    In remarks on the Senate floor, McConnell (R-Ky.) said Democrats “want taxpayers on the hook for generous new benefits for federal bureaucrats and government employees,” including making Election Day a “new paid holiday for government workers.”

    Federal bureaucrats are already authorized paid time off for voting, although granted not the whole day. In many (most?) states, including my home state of Virginia, already close schools, who employ the overwhelming number of state-level public employees, on Election Day on account of the schools being used as polling places. So, the excuse of paid time off for government workers is especially silly: they’re already off.

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  17. Tyrell says:

    I would oppose having election day as some sort of national holiday. Here is my theory on what would happen. A lot of people would to the golf courses, beaches, Walt Disney World, outlet malls, lakes, parks, car dealers, bowling alleys, mountains, and movie theaters. That is what people do on holidays. Many would have the intention of voting, but just would not quite get around to it. The beach would be awfully tempting, even a one day
    trip , four hours each way. All the big stores would entice shoppers with “election day” sales.
    So there is a good possibility less people would get around to,voting.
    “Oh, it’s getting late and we forgot to vote! Maybe next time”

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  18. SC_Birdflyte says:

    Priority for the next Democratic President: A strong federal elections statute that establishes a 48-hour voting period for all Federal elections and which defines what are legally permissible forms of identification that can be required in order to vote.

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  19. OzarkHillbilly says:

    This is just so obviously the right and sensible thing to do that I know it will never happen as long as there is a Republican party.

  20. Making Election Day a national holiday does not mean that everyone would have the day off. As it is, there are many Federal holidays (Columbus Day, Veterans Day, MLK Jr. Day) where vast portions of the private sector do not take the day off. As it is the number of Federal holidays where large segments of the economy effective shut down is limited to the “big” ones (Memorial Day, 4th of July, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day) and even here there are still people who end up working, including in “essential” services like law enforcement and health care and in the retail and service industries (this is especially true of restaurants on days other than Christmas and perhaps Thanksgiving)

    I’m not sure making Election Day a holiday, or linking it Veteran’s Day would make much of a difference. Instead, we ought to look at other ideas such as expanded early voting and vote-by-mail. The latter option especially seems to expand turnout, as these numbers from the three states that utilize vote-by-mail most prevalently suggest:

    For example turnout in 2016 in vote by mail states:

    Washington State — 78.76%
    Oregon — 80.33%
    Colorado — 72.1%

    Nationwide turnout in 2016? — 58.1%

  21. @Doug Mataconis: Like I said in the post, there are other factors and possibilities to consider. Really, Sunday voting would make the most sense in terms of in-person voting.

    My point is less to argue that a holiday solves the problem as much as pointing out that McConnell is arguing against increased voter access because it hurts his party.

  22. McConnell is arguing against increased voter access because it hurts his party.

    Well that’s obvious I think

  23. JRuss says:

    Mitch the spinless turtle says, we don’t want no more stinking people to vote, we’re the Republican Party of suppression, repression. gerrymandering, and gaming the voting system. Yes we and others have run investigations into voter fraud and found almost none, but that’s a more serious delusion to address than our myriad of proven voter restrictions and suppression. Making it easy to legally vote in America is Constitutional excess. And Mitch has ONE central purpose in life to get as many Republican Federal Judges on the bench to protect those Republican unpatriotic voter restriction and suppression efforts.

  24. Kathy says:

    Here are my comments on voting on Sundays in Mexico.

    I should add there’s no early voting, mail voting, or absentee ballots. Except Mexican citizens residing abroad can vote absentee by mail, but only for president.

    One can support policies that benefits one’s power but also benefit a lot of people and even the country at large. I’ve mentioned the example of the elder Gracchus in the late Roman Republic and his policy of distributing public lands to veterans displaced off their land.

    The opposition was partly because the public lands were used by the nobility, albeit in disregard of existing law, but also because they say Gracchus and his backers as building a political power base among the plebeians and the poor.

    They were building such a power base. No question. but the reforms would benefit the dispossessed veterans by giving them land to farm. Many veterans were trying to make a living in the cities, which drove down the price of labor, which hurt long-term urbanites. The nobility would not have accrued immediate benefits, but long term a stable society was to their advantage. They didn’t pay the bill for their intransigence, but their descendants did in decades of bloody civil war and a very erratic Imperial rule.

    So, yes, do ask “Who benefits?” but also “Who else benefits?”

  25. James Pearce says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Making Election Day a national holiday does not mean that everyone would have the day off.

    No, but it does mean a big sale down at the furniture store…

    Instead, we ought to look at other ideas such as expanded early voting and vote-by-mail.

    As a resident of a vote-by-mail state, I endorse this option. I literally filled out my ballot while watching a basketball game and later dropped it off at the library. Took about 20 minutes total, including driving down to the library.

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  26. gVOR08 says:

    @Richard Gardner: Yes.That. It’s the 21st century. Why are we gathering to vote in person on one set day?

  27. Joe says:

    It will always be the case, Monala, that lower income people will be disproportionately impacted by shorter voting hours, no matter the day of the week or its status as a holiday. Not only do they tend to work a lot of hours, but they have much less control over what hours they work.

    It seems to me that early voting, including mail-in voting, solves a lot more of these problems without causing new ones. My county has a least a couple of weeks of early voting at a limited, but well-distributed, number of poling sites. At some point during those weeks, I just roll it into some other errand. No matter how many odd hours others work, this is the best opportunity to give them a chance at a poll.

  28. gVOR08 says:

    We talk about this as though it were an aberration, but it’s built into the Republican Party. They are the party of established wealth and power. They see the world as us against the little people. We’re makers, they’re takers. 47%. They’re coming to take our stuff. It has to be a Republic because in a democracy poor people would vote to expropriate the rich. They would love to get back to only property owners voting, but add some lower limit. This is what they are.

    All the racist, homophobic, holy roller stuff is just an act for the rubes. As currently set up they have to get someone to vote for them, and who would they go after except the most gullible? (That said, they do at the moment have a bit of an inmates/asylum problem.)

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  29. Teve says:

    Xeni Jardin
    Xeni Jardin
    @xeni
    ·
    33m

    When proof is revealed that Russia put Trump & co. in power and kept them there, will it matter to an America that has fully stockholm’d itself into acceptance?

    Russia running America is better than blacks, Mexicans, queers, and BROADS bossing us around. That’s the thinking. Some say it more openly than others but white supremacy allowed this to happen because white supremacy is the only law that must be obeyed.

  30. al Ameda says:

    Occasionally Mitch let’s it show, two things:

    (1) Republicans actually do believe that civilian federal workers are Democratic voters, and not worthy of respect, and

    (2) a National Voting Holiday would increase turnout and result in more votes by undeserving Democratic constituencies.

  31. Scott F. says:

    Understandably, when we look at the degradation of Republicanism, Trump’s aberrant behavior draws most of the fire. But for my money, the excreable McConnell is far worse.

    He was the primary sponsor of the GOP nihilism deployed against Obama throughout his Presidency, he has claimed the proudest moment of his Leadership was the heinous treatment received by Merrick Garland, and now this naked embrace of disenfranchisement. Trump is a dullard and mostly clueless about the destruction that surrounds him, while McConnell is perfectly aware of the norms he flouts. This makes McConnell far more dangerous.

    Most telling, you can’t swing a cat without hitting a Republican who wants to distance themselves and their party from the stain of Trump. But, McConnell is warmly embraced by the GOP.

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  32. Teve says:

    Mitch McConnell’s face should be behind some kind of warning graphic, not just mercilessly sprung on the unsuspecting.

  33. just nutha says:

    “Mitch the spinless turtle”

    My guess it that you meant “spineless,” but in case not, I disagree. I think that Mitch spins like a top, or in the alternative, a maiden from a fairy tale. Take your pick.

    In his turtle persona, it’s certainly easy to make him spin–just flip him on his back.

  34. gVOR08 says:

    @Scott F.: Absolutely right. Trump is sort of clownishly evil. MConnell is at least as evil, and way better at it. We bitch a lot about Trump, but it’s the Republican Party that is an existential threat. (And by “existential” I do not mean “bad”, I mean a threat to the existence of the country in any recognizable form outside geography.) GOPus delundus est.

  35. just nutha says:

    @Scott F.:

    Most telling, you can’t swing a cat without hitting a Republican who wants to distance themselves and their party from the stain of Trump. But, McConnell is warmly embraced by the GOP.

    Hey! Don’t be sayin’ stuff like this. It spoils the current meme of Trump being the aberration in an otherwise completely normal GOP full of good, patriotic people who love their country and are completely free of bias.

  36. Teve says:

    while I’m not complacent, I’m not worried about Democrat chances in the house or the presidency in 2020. If I were in charge of one of the national Democratic organizations, I would be focused 95% on doing everything I could to flip the Senate, and remove power from the poisonous McConnell.

  37. dmichael says:

    Today, I am in the very unusual position of agreeing with Doug Mataconis and James Pearce, at least in part. I have voted for years in a vote-by-mail state and agree that it is the best solution to get more eligible people to vote. However, it is not a nation-wide solution. States governed by Republicans (frequently the result of voter suppression and gerrymandering) will continue to make it difficult to vote and therefore will not adopt vote by mail in those states. Federal legislation is necessary for federal elections. Now, if only Professor Taylor was the voice of major media. The current media will make excuses for the Turtle.

  38. @dmichael:

    Unfortunately I don’t believe that the Constitution would give Congress the authority to mandate nationwide mail-in voting.

  39. MarkedMan says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    As it is, there are many Federal holidays (Columbus Day, Veterans Day, MLK Jr. Day) where vast portions of the private sector do not take the day off.

    Exactly. In general my wife is significantly more tuned in than me, but her long association with non-profits, which tend to mirror the holiday schedule of State or Federal governments, has left her biased about what days “everyone” has off. Earlier this month on MLK day I had to make a run to a vacuum cleaner repair shop to get a belt for my mother-in-laws vacuum. There were two stores nearby but my wife was convinced that neither would be open.

  40. Tyrell says:

    Part of this proposed voting bill would create a national voting registry. Voters names would already be on the registry, but can opt out. This sounds worrisome to me. What kinds of personal information will it have? Who will have access? I do not want my name on any federal government list.

  41. @Tyrell:

    I do not want my name on any federal government list.

    So, I guess that means you are a tax-dodger, didn’t register for selective service, and plan not to get Social Security?