Election Day should be a federal holiday

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A federal holiday for Election Day could create a more festive atmosphere -- and more time to vote.
A federal holiday for Election Day could create a more festive atmosphere -- and more time to vote.

(CNN) -- I know some 800,000 people retweeted that "four more years" image of Barack and Michelle Obama. But a different and much-less-discussed tweet caught my eye on Election Day:

Election Day should totally be a federal holiday right? Like, let's trade in Columbus Day. Big festive Election Day BBQs should be a thing.

— Robin Sloan (@robinsloan) November 6, 2012

Explain to me how that's not a genius idea?

Of course, it's not an entirely original one. The actor who plays Dwight Schrute on "The Office" made a video about the subject earlier this year. But the best argument I found in favor of an Election Day holiday was in the pages of The Atlantic in 1998. Way back in those Backstreet Boy times, Martin Wattenberg wrote that Election Day should be combined with Veterans' Day to create Veterans' Democracy Day.

"This would send a strong signal about the importance our country attaches to voting," he wrote. "And what better way could there be to honor those who fought for democratic rights than for Americans to vote on what could become known as Veterans' Democracy Day?"

Veterans' Day is celebrated on November 11, which is Sunday this year. (Federal employees have Monday, November 12 off work). The holidays could be combined, Wattenberg says, on the second Tuesday in November.

I love Wattenberg's idea about Veterans' Day because of the message it sends to voters.

For the past month or so, I've been writing about Hawaii's distinction as the state with the lowest voter turnout rate in the 2008 election (and possibly in 2012, but the numbers are still coming in). For one piece of the project, I asked the People of the Internet to send messages to six nonvoters in the Aloha State, trying to convince them to vote. Three of the six caved to the social media pressure, and one, Michael Remen, told me he voted simply because of one of the messages he received. It came from a commenter on CNN iReport's Facebook page:

"Send him a free ticket to Arlington Cemetery and (show) him how many reasons there are to vote, since all those there died for that right, here and abroad."

"I thought that was a really powerful statement," Remen said, "and it made really good sense."

Aligning Voting Day with Veterans' Day not only makes logistical sense -- lines might be shorter if not everyone ran to the polls at the start and finish of the work day -- but also symbolic sense.

It might serve as a reminder to people like Remen that veterans have given their lives to protect the right to vote in the United States. The least we can do in return is honor their sacrifice by casting a ballot. And, as that tweet suggested, an Election Day barbecue wouldn't be so bad, either.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of John D. Sutter.

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