Responding to the "disgraceful" voter turnout for last week's midterm election—just 36.6 percent—Senator Bernie Sanders (Vt.) argued on Monday that the way to "fix" American democracy is for Election Day to be established as a national holiday.
"Can we be satisfied with a 'democracy' when more than 60% of people don’t vote and some 80% of young people and low-income Americans don’t either?" Sanders wrote in a Guardian op-ed published Monday.
The column follows Sanders' announcement late last week that he will introduce legislation in upcoming days calling for the creation of "Democracy Day" to provide all Americans with the time and opportunity to vote.
Crediting voter disengagement, as well as efforts by "Republican governors and state legislators" to "keep people away from the polls" for the low turnout, Sanders argues that now, more than ever, is when the voices (and votes) of those disenfranchised populations are most needed. He writes:
We must convince young people that if they vote in large numbers, we can lower the 20% real unemployment they are experiencing with a major jobs program. We must convince students that if they participate in the political process, we can lower the outrageously high student debt they face. We must convince low-income workers that voting can raise the national minimum wage to a real living wage. We must convince seniors that not only can we prevent cuts to Social Security – we can expand the paltry benefits that so many are forced to live on. We must convince the millions of Americans who are deeply worried about climate change that political participation can transform our energy system away from fossil fuels to energy efficiency and sustainable energy – and create millions of jobs.
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The United States currently ranks 120th in the world for average national turnout, according to the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance.
Sanders acknowledges Democracy Day won't be a "cure-all," adding that public funding of elections and an amendment to overturn Citizens United are also essential to achieving "the kind of political system that the world can look upon as an example, not a failure."
Election watchdog groups charged that the 2014 midterms were the most "unfair, confusing, and discriminatory election landscape" in fifty years, with voters nationwide facing a slew of new voting rules and restrictions meant to suppress turnout. Further, this election also marked the most expensive midterm election in history with dark money groups spending $1 billion to sway American voters.
"Throughout American history, people have fought and died to protect our democracy and set an example for other nations," Sanders continued. "When billionaires and corporations tilt elections, conservatives suppress voting and crucial voters feel unengaged, what kind of example for the world is that?"