This is one in a series of Nebraska News Service stories about election and voting issues in the state and the efforts of people and organizations who are working to strengthen democracy. This series is part of a national initiative — USDemocracyDay.org — in which more than 300 news outlets published stories on Democracy Day, Sept. 15, to bring attention to the crisis facing American democracy.
Whether Election Day became a holiday in Nebraska or not, the Lancaster County Election Commissioner’s office would be hard at work for democracy.
With over 1,000 volunteers and almost 200 polling sites, the office spends Election Day making and taking phone calls from voters and polling sites.
“Well, it’s usually a pretty hectic day for us,” said David Shively, Lancaster County election commissioner.
Election Day falls on the Tuesday following the first Monday in November of even numbered years. This year, Election Day is on Nov. 8.
Over 10 states recognize Election Day as a holiday, including Delaware, Hawaii and Virginia. In Virginia, the state governor saw making Election Day a holiday as a chance to make it easier to vote.
In Nebraska, Sen. Eliot Bostar of Lincoln introduced two bills, LB577 and LB965, in the last legislative session to add Nebraska to that list.
“The right to vote is the foundation of our democracy,” Bostar said. “I believe that we should be pursuing efforts to make access to voting easier so that we can ensure that as many of our citizens who want to exercise their voice in their government and choosing their representation have the ability to do so.”
The first bill Bostar introduced, LB577, had three provisions: make Election Day a holiday, automatically register people to vote at the Department of Motor Vehicles and have pre-paid postage on vote-by-mail return envelopes.
On the day that LB577 had its hearing last year, Gov. Pete Ricketts stated his opposition to making Election Day a holiday.
“We don’t need another state holiday to be able to allow for elections,” Ricketts said in a press conference on March 3, 2021. “We’ve been doing those successfully for many, many years without it.”
In an attempt to appeal to Ricketts, the second bill Bostar introduced, LB965, moved Arbor Day to be celebrated on Election Day in even-numbered years. Bostar said he chose Arbor Day because it is the only state holiday that is also not a federal holiday.
“I wanted to provide an option to my colleagues as a way of effectively doing just that, making Election Day a holiday without adding more holidays,” Bostar said. “I believe though that we should just make Election Day a holiday and keep Arbor Day where it is. That would be my first choice.”
The number of state holidays varies from state to state. Some states, such as Florida, don’t recognize any state holidays or even some of the federal holidays, such as Washington’s birthday on Feb. 21. Other states, such as Alabama, celebrated more than one state holiday this year, including Confederate Memorial Day on April 25 and Jefferson Davis’ birthday on June 6.
While Shively didn’t support or oppose Election Day becoming a holiday, he noted several advantages and disadvantages.
On the beneficial side, Shively said the polls would be more accessible for voters, it would be easier to recruit volunteers and schools would be more available as polling places.
However, Shively said Election Day as a holiday could raise costs because workers would be given holiday pay. Also, working Monday and then having Tuesday off could make for an awkward work week.
Bostar said his legislation doesn’t require businesses to offer holiday pay to their employees. Any holiday pay lies in an employer’s contract with their employee.
Although Election Day is not a holiday, voters have other resources available to them if they are unable to make it to the polls in person on Nov. 8. Any voter is able to request an early-voting ballot, and voters are able to go to their county election office 30 days before a primary election and 15 days before any other elections to vote in person.
Also, Nebraska law requires employers to allow a two-hour time frame for any employees who don’t have two available hours during polling hours on Election Day to vote.
At the end of the last legislative session, both bills attempting to make Election Day a holiday were indefinitely postponed.
But Bostar is already planning to continue his efforts to make Election Day a holiday when the next legislative session starts in January.
“I’m not giving up,” Bostar said. “The people of Nebraska should expect a bill to be introduced by me next year to make Election Day a holiday.”
Read more Nebraska News Services stories about democracy here and national Democracy Day stories here.
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