Public Comment

Election Day Holiday is Not a Good Idea

Kelly Hammargren
Saturday March 30, 2019 - 02:43:00 PM

tem 4 in the March 28, 2019 agenda for the Berkeley City Council Budget & Finance Committee Regular Meeting is Refer to the City Manager to Designate Election Day as a City Holiday sponsored by Council Members Robinson, Davila and Hahn.

I’ve been following national voting since 2011 when I realized that 58.2% of eligible voters did not vote in 2010. It was worse in 2014 when only 36.7 of eligible voters actually voted. 2018 was a record year for congressional elections with 50.3% voting. Donald Trump was elected by 27.2% of the voting eligible population. These numbers come from a source that uses the voting eligible population not who is registered.

Designating Election Day as a holiday does not solve the underlying issues of why people do not vote. While making such a designation will carry drama and the City can pat itself on the back for creating such a holiday, there are unintended consequences.  

If one looks nationwide beyond voter IDs and voter roll purges, the 2016 and 2018 tactics that had the most impact in making voting more difficult to impossible for those who wanted to vote were:  

Eliminating or greatly restricting early voting Limiting the number of polling locations Providing an inadequate number of working voting machines/stations/ballots in relation to the expected number of voters  

If the real goal is to remove obstacles, then expanding early in person voting as a compliment to absentee ballots is an action to take. Make voting easier by investigating the feasibility of the City of Berkeley permanently providing early voting location(s). Develop an ordinance that is a model to ensure that the three maneuvers listed above are addressed and then lobby the State of California to extend voting hours on election day and extend voting to imprisoned felons. 

A holiday declaration is no guarantee that a voter will be free to exercise that privilege. There are a myriad of jobs that still require people to show up for work regardless of holiday designation.  

We should worry that other states and cities that do not have the California option of unrestricted absentee ballot designation follow Berkeley’s lead and use the Election Day Holiday to close down early voting and restrict absentee ballots to only the most severely disabled.  

Election Day as a holiday sounds so progressive as it is and has been promoted by presidential candidates. It is easy to get caught up in a holiday as a solution to low participation of eligible voters, but I would hope that this City looks deeper than promoting a solution that may be just one more holiday to make an out of town four day weekend, a longer vacation or super shopping promotion sale day.