Growing up in the United States, I had been convinced that we invented democracy in 1776 and that we had a monopoly on what it means and how it should be implemented in society. The reality is, there are 167 democratic nations worldwide, ranging from small countries like the Pitcairn Islands to larger states such as India. They all have something about their respective democratic policies that we in the United States could learn from.
The most recent example comes from Nigeria, a West-African country that just wrapped up it’s presidential race with the incumbent seceding to the newly elected President Buhari, marking the first time in the history of Nigeria’s independence that a sitting president was usurped by a challenger. Now, I’m not saying that we model our democracy after Nigeria, but when we look into their voting practices, their willingness to make Election Day a national holiday stands out. I recognize that there are several reasons that this is necessary in Nigeria (waiting eight hours to vote) that aren’t’ applicable in the United States, but the overall message this sends is important—voting is not only important, it’s critical. Now, call me crazy, but this seems like a pretty good idea and one that could benefit us. After all, in the United States we actually have a federal holiday called President’s Day to celebrate the President’s of the past, but we don’t have a federal holiday in order to decide on whom those President’s will actually be.
Let’s keep in mind that turning Election Day into a national holiday isn’t a new idea, however it is one that we should consider bringing to the forefront of political dialogue. While most states already have laws that require employers to allow workers time, they amount to little more than an extended lunch break. A national holiday could in fact generate enough buzz and turn the political apathetic into more civic minded voters, even if just for a day. Will the economy take a bit of a hit that week? I’m sure it will. Will party promoters come up with gut-wrenching themes to promote Monday night parties? Definitely. Is it guaranteed that a election day federal holiday will increase voter turnout? No, it’s not. But it’s sure as hell worth a try.
When it comes to one of the most important metrics of a democracy, voter turnout, the United States ranks 112 out of these 167 democracies in the world and that simply has to change. Examining the policies and principles of these other 166 democratic countries can in fact help shine light on our own deficiencies and give us new ideas on how we can increase civic participation at all levels of government.