Sen. Jack Reed: Let’s move Election Day to the weekend, not Tuesday

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – What if Election Day was a Saturday or Sunday?

Rhode Island U.S. Sen. Jack Reed announced Wednesday he is filing a bill to move the day Americans go to the polls for federal elections to the first full weekend in November, arguing it could make it easier for people to vote. Election Day is currently the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November.

“Tuesday voting is an outdated, arcane practice that stands in the way of greater voter participation,” Reed, a Democrat, argued in a statement.

Congress originally set Election Day on Tuesday back in 1845. Experts say it was done in part to make it easier for farmers, who often had to travel long distances to their polling places and would not be able to do so on Sundays because of religious obligations. A uniform date was also desired after “allegations of fraud and corruption” in the 1840 election, according to the Congressional Research Service.

“Americans should not have to choose between their workday and family responsibilities and participation in our democratic process,” Reed said. “It is time for Congress to update the law and make it more convenient for Americans to cast their ballots.”

States would still be allowed to offer alternative voting options, such as early voting and voting by mail, under the proposal.

Reed’s legislation has attracted multiple Democratic cosponsors, including fellow Rhode Islander Sheldon Whitehouse, but no Republican support so far, according to his office.

A 2012 U.S. Government Accountability Office report on two-day weekend voting warned of “challenges” such as “finding poll workers and polling places, and securing ballots and voting equipment,” as well as “expected cost increases.” The report also said that while weekend voting has not specifically been examined, other voting alternatives have “not strongly affected” turnout.

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook