Low-Wage Workers Deserve On-Demand Voting

To understand the importance of early voting, you only need to look at the evolution of television. It used to be that your favorite show came on a certain day, at a certain time. If your work hours conflicted, or you were in the hospital with a sick child, or had another event to attend, then you missed your show and had to wait for the re-run. Today, Netflix, Hulu and similar “on-demand” applications allow people to watch TV shows as it fits into their daily lives and schedules. 
To understand the importance of early voting, you only need to look at the evolution of television. It used to be that your favorite show came on a certain day, at a certain time. If your work hours conflicted, or you were in the hospital with a sick child, or had another event to attend, then you missed your show and had to wait for the re-run. Today, Netflix, Hulu and similar “on-demand” applications allow people to watch TV shows as it fits into their daily lives and schedules. 
 
The early voting system works similarly by extending the time when people can file their ballot so that they’re not limited to just one day. If voters miss their chance to vote on Election Day, and there’s no other time to cast ballots, there is no re-run for them.
 
Some of the benefits as described in Demos latest elections report, “Millions to the Polls”: 
 
The 2008 election marked a dramatic increase in early voting among African American and Latino voters. And in Florida, where approximately 50 percent of ballots were cast early in 2012, African-American usage of early in-person voting has exceeded White usage in four of the five most recent federal elections. Research suggests that turnout increases are maximized when early voting is combined with Same Day Registration. Moreover, early voting is popular with voters. In nine states, more than 30 percent of voters used early voting. In 2012, nearly a third of voters cast their ballot before Election Day, more than double to rate of the 2000 election.
 
It’s been a hit among elections officials and experts, including those on President Obama’s bipartisan Commission on Election Administration
 
But despite the widespread support for it and its proven effectiveness in getting more people to vote, lawmakers who happen to be Republican have been on a rampage to scale it back. You should want to know why that is. 
 
Last Thursday, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed a bill into law that cuts weekends out of the early voting period. Before this, Wisconsin had some of the highest voter participation in the country. As David Weigel headlined over at Slate, “Cursed With Nation’s Second-Highest Turnout Rate, Wisconsin Restricts Early Voting.” 
 
In February, Ohio lawmakers cut their voting period by a week. And then, Sec. of State Jon Husted cut Sundays out and set voting hours so that people in dense areas like Cincinnati had the same amount of time to get out to vote as those in Ohio’s sparser farm towns. Husted said he did this to create “uniformity,” but State Sen. Nina Turner countered that “Uniformity in government is not the same as equity for the voter.” 
 
Lawmakers in Georgia, on the other hand, seems to embrace the benefits of the extended voting period. Two weeks ago, legislators in the state House killed off a bill that would have truncated early municipal elections voting from three weeks to one. As reported in Facing South, civil rights groups rallied to beat the bill back, bolstered by the fact that close to 2 million Georgian’s relied on early voting in 2012, a third of whom were African Americans. 
 
Those wondering why early voting is needed, and why so many use it, need only to understand that the voting schedule does not comport with the work schedule of millions of Americans in low-wage jobs. People who work hourly wage jobs at places like restaurants, factories and retail shops, mostly do not get to stay home from work on Election Day. You might argue that they can vote during their lunch breaks, but these workers often only have 15 to 30 minutes for lunch, which might not be enough time to vote in places like Florida where the line waits at polls can be hours long.  
 
And then there’s the transportation factor. You have to vote near your home, but many low-wage workers don’t work near their homes. The commute alone to a polling place could take an hour or longer, and may involve extra money spent on cabs or public transportation that's not in the budget. People could take a sick day to vote, but those days should be used for when people are, you know, sick. Not to mention, the way hours are accrued for sick leave, people often have to work weeks before they can earn a full day off. Who would expend those hours on waiting in a voting line when it would take weeks to accrue it back? Two out of three low wage workers in the U.S. don’t have a sick day to give up at all. 
 
These are the real-life problems of many workers, compounded when you figure in that millions of them are working two or three jobs to make ends meet. For them, missing work, or negotiating transportation needs, would make voting impossible if held just to one day. 
 
If these people can’t make it out to vote, the candidates elected to office end up reflecting the interests of white, wealthy Americans, as do the policies they create and the laws they pass. You can’t ignore this if you are wondering why Republicans want to cut early voting—especially in battleground states like Wisconsin and Ohio where there are large urban populations of black and brown voters.
 
If uniformity is the goal for crafting early voting schedules, then that should at least include uniformity with people’s work schedules. 
 
As stated by the Commission on Election Administration: “Whatever the form early voting may take, it must be administered in an equitable manner so all voters can have equal opportunity to vote. Indeed, enabling voters to cast a ballot at a time convenient to them, not the election authority, is the whole point of allowing voting before Election Day.”
 
Equal opportunity does not mean everyone has the same day or same hours to vote. Since we all don’t work the same hours, or have the same number of jobs, or the same family/home situation, applying a single-size early voting standard actually leads to unequal access to the polls. What voters need is Netflix voting—voting on demand. 
 

Comments