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].