Updated March 04, 2012Many Americans wonder why national elections are held on a Tuesday and argue that far more people would vote if Election Day were moved to a weekend. However, not only would weekend elections fail to significantly increase voter turnout, they would create a whole new set of problems, according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO).
The 2008 general election enjoyed a relatively high voter turnout, mainly due to interest generated by the presidential campaign. Yet, despite the "Obama factor," only about 62% of the nation's eligible voters actually voted. In the 2010 mid-term election, voter turnout predictably dropped to only 37%. Just as predictably, critics of Tuesday elections blamed the "inconvenience" of voting during the workweek for low turnout and renewed their call for Saturday elections.
Also See: Would You Rather Vote on Saturday?
In its report, Views on Implementing Federal Elections on a Weekend, the GAO analyzes several alternative voting methods already employed by the states and concludes they have had little significant impact on voter turnout. In addition, the GAO found that weekend voting would create new and costly problems for election officials, without greatly increasing voter turnout.
It is important to remember that while federal law mandates that general national congressional and presidential elections be held on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November, the Constitution (Article I, Section 4 and Article II, Section 1) grants the state legislatures the authority to determine the manner in which those elections are conducted, including providing for alternative voting methods, like absentee voting.
Alternative Voting Methods
The GAO identified 35 states and the District of Columbia that allowed voters at least one alternative to voting on the Tuesday Election Day in the 2010 mid-term national election. Some of the alternatives included:
- Allowing people to vote in-person on any day up to and including Election Day
- Allowing people to cast absentee ballots without providing an excuse for needing to do so
- Allowing people to vote by mail
Were They Effective?
While the states interviewed by the GAO had not specifically studied the effect weekend voting, they did report that voter turnout had not been greatly increased by any of the alternative voting options they provided in the 2010 election. "Since nationwide federal elections have never been held on a weekend, it is difficult to draw valid conclusions about how moving federal elections to a weekend would affect voter turnout," wrote the GAO.
Overall, the GAO concluded that the only alternative voting method estimated to have increased voter turnout by more than 4% in any state was vote by mail. "GAO's analysis of early voter turnout data in Maryland found that 1.5 percent of voters we analyzed cast ballots on the weekend during the 2010 general election."
The Costs of Weekend Elections
In preparing its Views on Implementing Federal Elections on a Weekend report, the GAO interviewed state and local election officials in 17 jurisdictions, who turned out to be less than enthusiastic about the prospect of having to administer weekend voting.
Specifically, the election officials expressed concerns over finding poll workers and polling places, protecting ballots and voting equipment over the weekend, and of course, expected cost increases.
All of the officials told the GAO they expected to need more poll workers for a 2-day weekend election, than for a Tuesday-only election. In addition, many of the election officials expressed concerns that "other priorities," such as family duties or attending religious services would make it harder to recruit poll workers for weekend elections.
Also See: Why Don't More Americans Vote?
The election officials also worry that some polling places used for Tuesday elections, such as churches, would not be available on weekends, and that alternative locations would be difficult to find and expensive to use.
Finally, the election officials told the GAO that they were very concerned by the logistics and costs involved with providing overnight security to protect ballots and voting equipment during a weekend election. While polling places for traditional Tuesday-only voting are selected to maximize availability and proximity to voters, polling place locations for weekend voting would have to be based on security needs. The result, said election officials, would be far fewer polling places and less convenience for voters.