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Opinion

It’s election day in L.A. — a reminder that America needs a national holiday to vote

Stevenson Ranch, CA November 6, 2018: Rachel Mesa, 29, holds her son Madison Mesa, 1, Stevenson Ra
Rachel Mesa, 29, holds her son Madison Mesa, 1, as she votes Nov. 6 in Stevenson Ranch.
(Los Angeles Times)

It’s election day, or at least it is in my corner of Los Angeles, where there is a special school board election. As is my custom, I will walk over to my local elementary school later, maybe with the dog, and cast my ballot.

I could have voted weeks ago with a mail ballot and avoided this disruption to my usual Tuesday routine. But I like the ceremony in day-of voting. It reminds me that it’s not just any ordinary Tuesday, but an occasion to participate in shaping history.

It’s a heady feeling, and profound experiences are best when shared with others. That’s why I trek to the polls for primaries, general elections and even single-race special elections like the one today. Afterward, it’s always bit of a letdown to resume my regular schedule. Shouldn’t there be fireworks or a parade or something marking this day as kind of a big deal?

Perhaps there would be if election day became a national holiday. That somewhat whimsical proposal is tucked inside the otherwise no-nonsense HR 1, For the People Act, a bill introduced by Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.) and cosponsored by 236 of his fellow Democrats that would enact many of the same voting reforms undertaken by California in recent years. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) denounced the bill and the national holiday idea as a “power grab” by Democrats, so it’s not likely to become reality anytime soon.

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But it has given other people ideas. Recently, Sandusky, Ohio, decided to replace Columbus Day, which is losing popularity anyhow, with an election day holiday for city workers. And a councilman in Duluth, Ga., has proposed that his city do the same.

I think California cities and legislators should consider doing the same. Not that we need to make it easier to vote here — and it’s going to get even easier in places like Los Angeles next year. But it could very well drive excitement about elections and shift the image of voting from something unpleasant but important that we should do, like going the dentist or getting a Pap smear, to something awesome we get to do before heading to the BBQ.

Wendy Weiser, director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, said an election day holiday would send a strong signal that elections matter. It’s especially appealing right now, when people are demoralized by political rancor and Russian hackers are working to undermine our faith in the system. The holiday would be a visible, regular reminder that we Americans value elections.

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Plus, honestly, think about the motley collection of national holidays we celebrate now: quasi-secular religious events, vaguely patriotic remembrances and the birthdays of long-dead important guys. Are any of those things as significant to our daily lives as elections?

I bet if you were able to ask the spirits of former presidents, they’d much prefer a holiday celebrating the living system they helped create and foster, rather than their collective birthdays being used as an excuse for a three-day weekend and great appliance sales.


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