Two prominent civil rights leaders say President Obama’s elections commission should have suggested that Election Day be moved to the weekend.
Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Andrew Young and Martin Luther King III said moving the traditional voting day to the weekend would increase voter turnout by making it easier for working mothers and poor people to vote.
Young and King said the Presidential Commission on Election Administration should have included weekend voting as an option.
“No one can honestly say that the best way to maximize voter turnout is to hold our elections on a working day,” King said.
King and Young work with the Why Tuesday nonprofit group, which supports the shift.
Elected officials who opposed weekend voting “must not really want people to vote,” King said.
Obama’s panel recommended a dozen major changes to electoral practices, including an expansion of online voter registration and early voting. The group also called for new federal funding to replace voting machines and the creation of local advisory groups to address the needs of voters with disabilities and limited English proficiency.
The commission said such changes could both improve voter turnout and lessen lines at the polls.
Under an 1845 law, Election Day is set as the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November.
The law was originally designed to give voters one day after the weekend to travel from their farms into town to vote. The “after the first Monday” provision is included so that the election is never held on Nov. 1, or All Saints Day.
Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) has introduced legislation in the House that would move the date to the first weekend after the first Friday in November. Under his proposal, the polls would be open at least from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturday and 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday.
Obama appointed the 10-member commission after vowing in his 2013 State of the Union speech to address problems with electoral practices. The Orlando Sentinel estimated that some 200,000 voters likely gave up on voting in 2012 because of the wait times.
Obama recognized Desiline Victor, a 102-year-old Miami woman who waited hours to cast her ballot, during his remarks.
“When any Americans — no matter where they live or what their party — are denied that right simply because they can't wait for five, six, seven hours just to cast their ballot, we are betraying our ideals,” Obama said at the time.