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Ohio Officials Discuss Making Election Day a Holiday

A photo of voters at a polling place
KABIR BHATIA
/
WKSU
Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose said the state provides ample opportunities for citizens to cast ballots.

Ohio’s top elections official said giving workers a day off for Election Day is an interesting idea, but he’s not convinced it’s the one and only solution. 

The city of Sandusky moved its paid city holiday from Columbus Day to Election Day. Local leaders said they wanted to prioritize that time as a holiday to give workers the chance to vote.

A similar move has been proposed by members of the Cincinnati City Council.

At forum of elected leaders hosted by the Ohio Associated Press, Secretary of State Frank LaRose said it’s an interesting idea. He encouraged more cities to have the debate. "Anything we can do to increase voter participation to encourage more people to get involved we should be doing and that means trying things like this is worth doing,” LaRose said.

A national discussion
LaRose said making Election Day a holiday was a subject of conversation at the National Association of Secretaries of State Conference recently. He said he heard concerns, even among voter advocates, that this could unintentionally lower Election Day turnout. “If you have a Tuesday off that makes you want to take a Monday off and turn that into a four-day weekend and take the kids and go away for a few days, that causes the actual inverse of what we’re looking to have and that’s participation.”

A matter of fairness
Other elected officials, all Republican, participating in the conference shared their views. Attorney General Dave Yost said he’s not taking a stance one way or another on the idea, but he does have concerns when it comes to fairness. “If we’re gonna have a national holiday it needs to have an even application meaning everything needs to close down, and we need to have it equally accessible to everybody,” Yost said.

He said a holiday might give government workers a day off, but there are many other people in the private sector who have to work on Election Day.

“They still end up chained to their desk, or to their forklift, or their drill press, then I don’t think that we’ve accomplished something that’s very fair.”

Another route
Auditor Keith Faber echoed Yost’s concerns and said another route is encouraging leaders in the private sector to allow their employees more flexibility during the election season.

“So that people can take a little longer lunch to go vote or they can vote earlier, go to one of the early voting days where you’re not going to have a line at most of the local elections so I’m not sure a day off is necessarily the answer,” Faber said.

As Faber noted, Ohioans have the opportunity to vote at their local board of elections up to four weeks before Election Day. LaRose said the state gives ample opportunity to vote, not only early in-person but by mail. "Again," said LaRose, "whether it’s a holiday or not there’s no excuse for people skipping the opportunity to vote.”

Increasing voter turnout
Catherine Turcer with Common Cause Ohio, a voter rights advocacy group, says it’s important for federal, state, and local officials to all be thinking of ways to increase voter turnout and election accessibility. As for making Election Day a holiday, she agreed that it might not be the perfect cure but it’s a step in the right direction. "It’s an experiment but it’s definitely an experiment that’s worth doing because voting is so important.”

As for the idea of it having a negative impact, Turcer doesn’t dismiss the idea that some people might go out of town for the day. However, she said, on the whole, when changes are made to increase voter participation there’s more of a positive outcome.

Trying it out
LaRose said he’s glad Sandusky, which is located in Erie County, is trying out the idea.

“The upside is, my hope would be that the Erie County Board of Elections has an easier time now recruiting poll workers because you’ve got hundreds of city employees that are not going to be on duty that day and all the boards of elections all around the state are always looking for poll workers. And so now with all those folks having a day off it should encourage that.”

So far 13 states have made Election Day a paid holiday for state employees, including Michigan, Kentucky, and Indiana.