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Commentary: We should vote on the first Saturday in November

  • Story Highlights
  • Roland Martin says Election Day should be changed to the weekend
  • Weekday voting once made sense, but no longer, Martin says
  • Goal should be to make it easy for as many people to vote as possible, he says
  • Next president should work with Congress to make the switch, he says
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By Roland S. Martin
CNN Contributor
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(CNN) -- Join Roland Martin for his weekly sound-off segment on CNN.com Live at 11:10 a.m. Wednesday. If you're passionate about politics, he wants to hear from you.

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Roland Martin says voting on Tuesday made sense when the day was set in 1845, but a change is needed.

Now that the political parties have informally settled on their nominees, the focus turns to November 4, when the nation will go to the polls to choose a new president.

But why is Election Day on a Tuesday? Why in the world do we continue to insist on voting on a weekday when we are supposed to be encouraging as many people to vote as possible?

Most of the primaries and caucuses during the past four months took place on Tuesdays, but a number went to the polls on Saturdays. The Puerto Rico vote was on a Sunday. What's better than going to church in the morning and then making your way to the voting booth?

Officially, Election Day is the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November (depending on the year, it could be November 2 through November 8). Since 1845, this has been the standard practice in the United States. Congress wanted a set date to elect a president and members of Congress, and because we were an agricultural society, this was the best day for farmers in rural America to get to the polls. That made a ton of sense. Then. But a lot has changed in the past 163 years, and it's time Congress changed this unnecessary law.

The purists are likely to argue that everyone knows that a Tuesday in early November is set aside for Election Day. So with that in mind, just leave the election in November. Sure, it would make better sense to go with a month during which it's warm in nearly all of the USA, but the consistency argument also makes sense.

But why not the first Saturday in November? If that date were chosen, the majority of voters wouldn't have to worry about trying to vote before going to work, hoping and praying the lines aren't too long so they can zip in and zip out. The same thing happens in the evening. Folks have to hurry up and finish their work, interrupt meetings, and shut down whatever else they are doing and head to the polls.

They are likely to confront long lines, and that discourages some folks from voting. (Now, I don't have much sympathy on this one. We'll stand in line for a concert or movie; and that surely isn't as important as electing a president!)

Saturday is already a day of leisure, and there is no doubt that more Americans would head to the polls on a traditional day off from work.

Because of the excitement generated by this year's campaign, you can bet there will be long lines at the polls, and if there are not enough ballots, we can expect all kinds of delays. Folks will grow frustrated, be afraid to show up to work late, and likely will leave and not come back.

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That's just not good for democracy. This is one of those simple decisions that doesn't require a ton of debate. I can't imagine there being major opposition to moving the election date.

In 2004, 71 percent of all eligible voters were registered, according to a story by the Carnegie Reporter, "Election Reform: Lessons From 2004." But of that number, 60.7 percent voted.

Someone is likely to say that with the number of people voting up in 2004 from the number in 2000, that's not bad. But when we see 90 percent of voters in Iraq voting -- and we are trying to instill democracy there! -- it's clear that impediments to voting in the United States aren't helpful.

It would be nice to see the presidential nominees weigh in on this and pledge to change the election date. Let's see a debate moderator ask this question.

Instead of putting up barriers for people who want to vote, we should be the most open society when it comes to giving our citizens as many options as possible to vote, and moving Election Day from a weekday to a weekend makes a lot of sense.

We can't speak of our cherished democracy around the world if we aren't willing to improve it every chance we get.

Roland S. Martin is a nationally award-winning journalist and CNN contributor. Martin is studying to receive his master's degree in Christian communications at Louisiana Baptist University. You can read more of his columns at http://www.rolandsmartin.com/.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the writer.

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