Why the Hell Don’t We Get Election Day Off?

Congress has a sneaky rule that only 10 federal holidays are allowed each year, and they’re all taken. Now, big businesses are taking matters into their own hands.

Every February, Americans slogging through the cold, post-holiday darkness get a little present. On the third Monday of the month, schools and government offices close in honor of Abraham Lincoln and George Washington’s birthdays — Feb. 12 and 23, respectively — more commonly known as Presidents Day. While getting a random day off work to sleep in is always a great idea, it’s an odd choice: Why celebrate our old, dead leaders? And in a country that’s obsessed with spreading democracy far and wide, why the hell don’t we get Election Day off work?

It comes around a couple times a year, and as our voter turnout numbers continue to be fairly dismal, pressure on employers is increasing to make space for workers so they can line up at the polls. On Sept. 24, a number of leaders from high-profile companies launched the Time to Vote campaign, which encourages CEOs around the country to provide “paid time off, a no-meetings workday, and resources for mail-in ballots and early voting.” Many of the participating companies leading the charge are from the Bay Area, including Kaiser Permanente, New Belgium, Levi Strauss & Co., Gap, and Lyft.

Levi’s addresses the issue by recruiting “vote captains” for each department who make sure people are registered, and the company offers paid time off for employees to make it to the polls.

“People have fought and died for the right to vote in America, and as business leaders we have a role to play in helping our employees participate in the democratic process,” said Levi Strauss & Co. President and CEO Chip Bergh in a statement. “This campaign isn’t about any particular party or candidate or issue — it’s about encouraging more people to vote without having to make the hard choice between going to work and going to the polls.”

Patagonia takes it a step further, closing all of its stores for Election Day to encourage its employees to head to the polls.

“Our democracy simply works better when people go vote,” said Patagonia CEO Rose Marcario. “Demonstrating your company’s commitment to voting reinforces the idea that American businesses can protect our democracy.”

It’s great that businesses that can afford to have made space for voters to exercise their rights, particularly since getting a federal holiday approved is a massive pain in the butt. The president can declare a one-day holiday for federal workers in the wake of an ex-president’s death, as George W. Bush did for Ronald Reagan in 2004. But as for a real, permanent day … that’s nearly impossible, despite the fact that the 1993 “Motor-Voter Act” originally contained language establishing Election Day as a federal holiday.

Congress only approves 10 days each year as federal holidays, and they’re all taken: New Year’s Day, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Presidents Day, Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, Labor Day, Columbus Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. (That law is made worse by the fact that the House of Representatives has only averaged 138 legislative days each year since 2001, which comes out to fewer than three days a week.)

Nevertheless, people have tried and failed to get other federal holidays approved. Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney tried to get Susan B. Anthony Day approved in 2011, ex-Congressman Charles Rangel petitioned for a Malcolm X Day, and Native Americans Day has been requested multiple times without success. Over the years, thousands of federal holiday ideas have been rejected, although the City of Berkeley closes its administrative offices in observance of Malcolm X Day. And certain jurisdictions have their own holidays. Mardi Gras is a state-sanctioned day off in Louisiana, while Boston celebrates “Evacuation Day” every March 17, which nominally acknowledges the day British troops pulled out after the Revolutionary War — and just so happens to coincide with St. Patrick’s Day.

So while our government stubbornly continues to insist that Presidents Day and Columbus Day are worth the economic impact of shutting down all government offices nationwide, the impetus to create space for people to vote lands on businesses, which makes the Time to Vote campaign, and all its big-name backers, a pretty big deal. Will it change our voter turnout numbers? Only time will tell, but in an ideal world, the only people setting their alarm on Election Day would be poll workers and reporters.

Read more from SF Weekly‘s election issue:

Who Judges the Judges? We Do.

California voters have a rare say regarding the state’s judiciary — and a chance to apply any lessons learned from the Kavanaugh confirmation.

Nothing’s Good Enough for PETA, Including Prop 12

Why does the animal-rights organization oppose a California prop that would create better lives for farm animals?

The Speech Donald Trump Could Deliver to Triple His Support in San Francisco

In 2016, Trump received 37,688 votes in S.F., or 9.2 percent of the total. He can wield his dark magic and go a lot higher.

Chem Tales: A Guide to Cannabis on the Ballot

Here’s a quick primer on where marijuana fits into the midterm elections.

Is This Man the Future of the California Democratic Party?

Fremont freshman Congressman Ro Khanna is not about to let tech illiteracy on Capitol Hill get in his way.

College Voters Are Still a Missed Opportunity in S.F.

Although many are cautiously optimistic that youth will turn out to vote in the midterms, San Francisco’s two biggest universities have contrasting approaches to tap into college-age voters.

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