Editor's note: This article originally appeared in The New York Times' Room for Debate in response to the question: Which holidays should government recognize? Should we take off Election Day? Or stop recognizing Christmas to keep the separation of church and state?
Everyone loves holidays. A day off from work, often a three-day weekend to travel or relax – who wouldn't appreciate that? But holidays recognized by the government are also costly. Millions of people taking another day off from work sharply reduces productivity in the country. And, like monuments on the National Mall, there are real limits to the number one can have, and each one needs to go through a thorough and careful vetting process, so that future generations can have room or times to honor other leaders or events.
At one level, as a longtime and strong proponent of making voting easier for all Americans who are eligible, I would love to make Election Day a holiday. Far too many working people are hamstrung on Tuesday; they can vote only before or after work, when the lines are especially long and when people whose livelihoods depend on getting to work on time and getting the hourly pay cannot afford to wait for an hour or more. But adding an Election Day holiday is simply too costly.
One alternative proposal, to have elections held on Veterans Day, has understandably been opposed by veterans' groups that do not want the day’s purpose to be diluted.
That is why I helped to found Why Tuesday, an organization focused on informing Americans that the tradition of Tuesday Election Days is not writ in stone or in the Constitution, but was chosen to suit a 19th-century agrarian economy. We believe it makes far more sense to move elections to the weekend.
In my ideal world, American national elections would be held over a 24-hour period from noon Saturday to noon Sunday, obviating any Sabbath concerns, erasing any “rush hour” problems of peak periods, and making it easier for more people to vote. I would also want early voting on the Wednesday, Thursday and Friday beforehand for those who are traveling or unable to vote on the weekend.
Of course, a 24-hour period would be more costly than our current system – but far less costly than a national holiday, and a tiny price to pay for a better democracy. If Wal-Mart can stay open 24/7/365, why can't our democracy be open 24/1 every two years?