Saturday, November 04, 2006

Weekend Voting or Voting Holiday?

Turnout among eligible voters in the U.S. for presidential elections is only 50-55%. Turnout in non-presidential years like this year will be far lower. By comparison, turnout is 70-75% in Canada and over 80% in most other democracies. Even many fragile new democracies have turnout levels far higher than ours.

One reason for low voter turnout in the U.S. is the opportunity cost of time for voting here is very high, because we vote on a weekday that is also a workday and not a holiday. This probably made sense in the 1700s and 1800s when the U.S. was an agriculture-based economy, - farmers had flexible schedules and probably weren't too busy on a Tuesday in November after the fall harvest.

The United States is one of the few Western democracies that do not schedule elections on weekends or a designated holiday. Some countries also have voting on more than one day (Saturday and Sunday) or even for a full week. Advocates for a voting holiday in the U.S. point to higher turnout in countries that give a day off to vote or hold elections on the weekend. They also look to Puerto Rico, where a full day off (voting holiday) is dedicated to the election, and turnout in 2004 was the highest in the U.S. at over 82 percent.

The demand curve for voting slopes downward like other demand curves and follows the Law of Demand, i.e. there is an inverse relationship between the cost of voting and the number of votes.

1. There is a significant opportunity cost of time to vote in an election, and that opportunity cost is probably higher on weekdays that are not holidays.

2. If you lower the opportunity cost of voting with weekend voting, voting holidays, electronic voting, Internet voting, etc. the number of votes will increase, ceteris paribus.

That is, if you want higher voter turnout, simply lower the cost of voting.



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