Op-Ed: Removing Barriers to Voting Will Improve Turnout, Strengthen Democracy

I love to vote. I have only done it twice—in the 2018 primary and general elections—but each time was thrilling and empowering.

While some people do not vote because of the belief that their vote doesn’t matter, others abstain because there are too many barriers to doing so. Although we like to think of the United States as a democracy that actively engages our citizens, we consistently fall short of making that a reality.

Luckily, leaders in California are prepared to put in the work to remove barriers that may be keeping people from voting. Assemblyman Evan Low (D-Campbell) is committing to voter engagement in with the introduction of two new bills: ACA 8 and AB 177. ACA 8 would lower the voting age from 18 to 17 and AB 177 would make election day a holiday.

Low has long supported lowering the voting age to 17. He claims that by allowing high school seniors to register and vote, voting will become a habit they maintain throughout the rest of their lives. Lowering the voting age to 17 is the right thing to do and Low’s amendment has bipartisan support, as it should.

Making election day a holiday is an intriguing proposal, but implementation may be more difficult than it seems. A state holiday would not ensure that everyone has the day off of work, only state employees and other public workers. This means that public schools would close, which is great news for teachers who previously were unable to find time to vote, but troublesome for parents who may have to find childcare.

Additionally, making election day a holiday does not help hourly workers at privately owned businesses. In fact, a state holiday is likely to increase the number of stores and restaurants holding specials and sales which could potentially deter service workers from taking time off to vote.

While a great idea in theory, there are other ways besides the holiday proposal to expand access to voting that will come at a lower cost and inconvenience to individuals.

The Voter’s Choice Act, which was implemented in 5 counties in the 2018 election cycle and may be enacted in all California counties in 2020, is an option that seems like a better and more efficient way to increase voting access. The act mandates that every voter is mailed their ballot, expands in-person early voting, and allows voters to cast their vote at any voting center in their county.

While I am not prepared to oppose the idea of making election day a holiday, I am interested in seeing more research on its implementation and potential challenges. It may be more in the interest of California voters to embrace the Voter’s Choice Act than to make election days a holiday.

As someone who loves to vote, I am excited that the California legislature is joining the national conversation about increasing voter participation. Our government will only reflect our values if everyone participates in the democratic process and votes.

Maybe I seem young and silly for feeling so empowered every time I fill out my ballot, but at least I have been afforded the opportunity to participate in our democracy. Whether or not you think your vote matters, you should want everyone who seeks that thrill of civic engagement to experience it without barriers.

Naava Ellenberg is a San Jose native and a sophomore at Barnard College of Columbia University, where she studies history with a concentration in American law and politics. Opinions are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of San Jose Inside. Send op-ed pitches to [email protected].

10 Comments

  1. Wow, this sounds like a really bad idea….. Not the Holiday but the voting age. I think we should raise it to 21. If we can’t expect someone under 21 to be responsible enough to make personal decisions about drinking, how can we expect that same young person to be responsible enough to make decisions about our collective future?

    Either that or make 17 the legal age of an adult. At 17 you would be old enough to vote, register for the draft, drink alcohol, use marijuana, buy cigarettes, and heck let’s make it the new age of eligibility for driving while we’re at it.
    Or we could just leave things the way they are….

  2. Sorry, the new standard should be 21 when you can own a fire arm, drink, smoke, or smoke $hi+. We don’t need a holiday to go vote 27 times. You can vote by mail, for a month, you don’t need to even have an I’d for that!

    If you’re 18 and active in the military, I’m willing to grant you the vote.

    Now lets talk about term limits for Congress.

  3. “California’s compulsory education laws require children between six and eighteen years of age to attend school, with a limited number of specified exceptions. ”

    https://lao.ca.gov/2004/compulsory_ed/020304_Compulsory_Education_Laws.htm

    So, sixteen and seventeen year old voters in California will be under the mandated indoctrination of California public school teachers.

    Did California public school teachers have a voting preference in the last election?

    How does a “democracy” have fair elections and “government by the people” if government employees are “educating” the people about the government?

  4. > Naava Ellenberg is a San Jose native and a sophomore at Barnard College of Columbia University, where she studies history with a concentration in American law and politics.

    By the way, Columbia University is quite a prestigious and elite educational institution. Did Naava Ellenberg receive any “preference” or “assistance” in her admission to Columbia?

  5. Voting age should be raised to 25, anyone youger’s pre-frontal cortex is far too underdeveloped to hold such power. It feels like your thinking, but you are just feelingnnot thinking.

    “It doesn’t matter how smart teens are or how well they scored on the SAT or ACT. Good judgment isn’t something they can excel in, at least not yet.

    The rational part of a teen’s brain isn’t fully developed and won’t be until age 25 or so.

    In fact, recent research has found that adult and teen brains work differently. Adults think with the prefrontal cortex, the brain’s rational part. This is the part of the brain that responds to situations with good judgment and an awareness of long-term consequences. Teens process information with the amygdala. This is the emotional part.”

    https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?ContentTypeID=1&ContentID=3051

  6. Hey Naava – would you give alcohol and the car keys to a 16/17 year old? Pretty dumb idea, right?

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