With election season on the horizon, republics around the world are bringing attention to the issue of voter turnout rate. According to Pew Research Center and Election Project Organization, the United States had an approximately 48% voter turnout rate in every national election since the 1990s, while more than 239 million people were eligible to vote. In some countries, however, voter turnout is not an issue at all. In South Korea, the average voter turnout rate since the 1990s has been 75%, and according to Brooking’s Institute, Australia has had a whopping 90% voter turnout rate.
The secret? Election Day is a nationally observed holiday in these nations. Countries like Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Costa Rica, and Mexico also showed high voter turnout rates by having holidays. Such low voter turnout rates in the United States have various reasons why many Americans decide not to vote, but one main reason is not giving them time to vote and cast their ballots. Every U.S. election happens on Tuesday, whereas other countries make their election day either Sunday or a holiday. The average working American only gets 30 minutes for lunch, and still, many decide not to eat lunch because of their intense corporate workload. These hard-working Americans honestly don’t have enough time to wait in an endless line on a busy Tuesday to cast their ballots.
The issue of voter turnout rate gets even more complicated given that working class Americans are disproportionately inconvenienced by election days and times. Elite Americans are much freer to schedule their daily plans, and they aren’t pressed for time to vote since they are the highest members in companies where average Americans work. As they are much more flexible, they have much higher chances than average Americans to cast ballots. The result is that most election ballots will be filled with more wealthy Americans’ votes than average Americans trying to create a political landscape that would benefit riches rather than middle or poor.
Will any employees shout at CEOs and chairpersons for not coming to work and deciding to vote instead? The answer is probably no. Will employees be yelled at by their boss for emptying their seats for hours, even if they cast their ballots? The answer is more likely to be yes. These contradicting scenarios happen on every election day. According to the Census Bureau, registered voters stated “conflicting schedules” to be the most common reason for not voting in 2008, 2010, 2012, and 2014 election days, and it was the second most common in the year 2016. With these trends, 2020 data is likely to show similar results.
Even with these clear data, the United States still had election days as a working day for decades. It has consistently shown a disappointing voter turnout rate, which causes apoliticism. As average Americans are not eligible to vote, of course, many Americans fall into apolitical tendencies where they think their ballots won’t affect them anyway; hence they don’t give interest in political fields during their busy days.
The main reasoning behind this massive turnout rate difference is the culture of elections. For numerous decades, South Korea and the United States’ election day differed considerably. In the United States, it was a working day where citizens were still expected to show up at work, and to vote, they needed to wait for hours in front of the polls. Thus, it was a typical, boring, tiring day for citizens. In the meantime, South Korea enjoyed the election day culture that we had as a holiday for past decades. As South Korea had election day as a holiday, people had more interest in politics, and the government advertised and encouraged voting by setting up numerous voting booths where citizens could vote quickly. Even if it was a small village, every town had a voting booth set up in town halls or city hall offices. After the quick casting of voting ballots, the street was full of families taking a car and enjoying the rest of their holiday by taking a relaxing family trip away from the busy, crowded working days. When the clock reached 6 PM, news media would start broadcasting election results live. Those news media had eye-catching visuals that would attract citizens to pay attention to the results and stay interested in Korean politics. South Korea’s election coverage was eye-catching to the extent that it was also noted by international news media such as CBS, ABC, Foreign Policy, Herald, etc. During the 2017 presidential election in South Korea, I remember talking to my father about each candidate’s political strategies and their effects. Then we were trying to order a fried chicken to enjoy the election coverage. When I made that call, the chicken place said, “since it is election night, we were so full with orders, it will take hours to deliver your chicken to your house.”
As seen, South Korea made election day a relaxing but exciting holiday where people can actively participate in political discussions and enjoy the election day holiday with their close ones. In the meantime, the United States has a leading power and influence over other countries. Still, it seems like the United States may be behind the trends in building strategies to collect all citizens’ opinions during elections, and the ongoing election system may only spotlight one elite side of many diverse Americans’ thoughts in politics. Of course, there are no guarantees that making an election day holiday would change the turnout rate immensely, but looking at the polls and stories from other countries, it is sure worth the try.
Benny Hwang is a senior at Korea International School, Jeju Campus, with a passion for policy and people. He intends to attend university in the United States, where he will major in international relations and public policy.