As the 2008 national elections approach, U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl, D-WI, unveiled legislation to encourage greater participation in Presidential and Congressional elections by moving the polling date to the first weekend of November, instead of the first Tuesday of that month.
"The serious business of our democracy relies on the participation not of the few, but of the many eligible voters," Kohl said. "Holding elections on the first Tuesday of November makes it difficult, even impossible, for many Americans with jobs and family to exercise their fundamental right to vote. We should do what is in our power to make this process easier, to encourage more people to make their voice heard in Washington. Holding elections over the weekend rather than a work day will make it significantly easier for millions of Americans to vote.
"By enacting my legislation, we ensure fairer, more open and more credible elections that allow more Americans to participate in their inherent right to choose their representatives and leaders."
Sen. Kohl’s legislation, The Weekend Voting Act, if enacted into law, would mandate national polls to be open from 10 a.m. (Eastern Time) Saturday to 6 p.m. (ET) Sunday in the 48 contiguous states. Election officials would be permitted to close polls during the overnight hours if they determine it would be inefficient to keep them open.
By providing registered voters with an alternative to casting their ballots in just one day, The Weekend Voting Act expands on election reforms enacted in 2002 with the passage of The Help America Vote Act, which was co-sponsored by Sen. Kohl. The Help America Vote Act established minimum standards for states in the administration of federal elections and in providing funds to replace outdated voting systems and improve election administration.
The Weekend Vote Act would also build on efforts to increase voter participation by providing absentee ballots and early voting. As it stands now, 28 states, including Wisconsin, now permit registered voters to vote by absentee ballot. Thirty-one states permit in-person early voting at election offices or at other approved locations. Sen. Kohl first introduced this legislation in 1997. In 2001, the National Commission on Federal Election Reform recommended that the date of federal elections be moved to a non-working national holiday.
The tradition of holding federal elections on the first Tuesday of November began in the mid-19th century. Tuesday was selected because of its comparative convenience because it was a designated "court day" and the day in which landowners would typically be in town to conduct business. In today’s America, 60 percent of all households have two working adults. Since most polls are open only 12 hours (from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.) voters only have one or two hours to vote. As seen in the 2004 election and in recent primaries, long lines in many polling places kept voters waiting longer than one or two hours.
Sen. Kohl added, "If we are to grant all Americans an equal opportunity to participate in the electoral process, and to elect our representatives in the great democracy, then we must be willing to reexamine all aspects of voting in America. Given the stakes – the integrity of future elections and full participation of as many Americans as possible – I hope my colleagues in Congress recognize this legislation to hold elections on the weekend rather than a work day as a common sense proposal whose time has come."