Changing voting rites

Instead of heading out for a Sunday walk in the park, would the ability to head out for a Sunday stroll to the polls make a difference in voter turnout?

That’s the premise of an effort to rid the US of its traditional Tuesday election day in favor of a schedule that reform advocates say would make it easier for more people to exercise their voting rights. Weekdays can be a harried rush of workday commuting, dropping off and picking up kids, and other demands that can crowd out a stop at the polls, say those pushing for change.

Today’s Globe piece on the effort hooks the storyline to yesterday’s Sunday election for president in France. The story notes that turnout there was lower than usual, but still higher than it is for most US elections.

A switch to weekend voting has been promoted for years by a nonprofit group called Why Tuesday? The goal is to “make voting a pleasant experience as opposed to a pain,” cofounder Norm Ornstein, a well-known policy voice at the American Enterprise Institute, tells the Globe.

The group, founded in 2005, says the US ranks 138 out of 172 countries in voter turnout since 1945. Turnout in US presidential contests is about 55 percent of the voting-age population, compared with 70 percent in France. (French turnout dipped to about 65 percent yesterday, however.)

Former Republican Senate leader Trent Lott was part of a bipartisan panel in 2014 that applauded efforts to have the US move to weekend voting, which is done in many countries and a few states.

But a bill that has been filed repeatedly in Congress to move federal elections to weekends has a decidedly partisan feel: All 49 cosponsors of the measure are Democrats. Ornstein says Republicans fear higher turnout would help Democrats.

But research is pretty equivocal on the question of whether weekend voting would actually mean higher turnout. In the end, people have to feel compelled by a sense that their vote is important and that an election matters.

“Putting elections on the weekend isn’t going to solve low turnout if you don’t have interesting elections,” Secretary of State Bill Galvin, who oversees Massachusetts elections, tells the Globe. “If it’s an exciting election and it affects people, they will vote. But if it’s not, they’re not going to come out on a weekend or a weekday, if the only vote is for cemetery commissioner.”

That rings particularly true when it comes to state legislative races here, where so many lawmakers run unopposed. Massachusetts consistently ranks near the bottom when it comes to rankings of contested elections.

Low turnout seems much more a symptom of malaise in the political order than a cause of it.




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