Limiting elections only to Tuesday voting is so 1845 

In a country where the general goal is getting everything to the consumer as fast as the touch of a button, you might wonder why voting isn’t more convenient.

Or, to put it another way, the question persists: Why Tuesday?

Most modern nations — and even a lot of uncivilized ones — have grappled with this query and come up with a solution that often gets more than 80 percent of their registered voters out to the polls on any given day.

You know, like Saturday. Or Sunday.

But Tuesday? That’s about as quirky and antiquated as America gets.

So San Francisco, ever the social petri dish, may get a chance to start a new electoral trend in November, courtesy of a ballot measure that would establish a second day of voting in next year’s general election.

I have to admit that the whole Saturday-voting initiative didn’t resonate at first, seeming like a blip on the election-cycle screen. But the more I talked to the measure’s author, Alex Tourk — he of Homeless Connect fame — the better I understood why it’s needed.

“Among modernized countries, the U.S. is almost dead last in voter turnout,” Tourk said. “Saturday voting is not a silver bullet. But if we can prove the effectiveness of weekend voting, maybe we can inspire some people.”

The whole concept of voting on the weekend may seem a bit trivial, until you understand the reason we go to the polls Tuesdays, and then you may want to ask me if I’m kidding.

We do it because America was once a largely agrarian nation, so to make it easier for farmers to get to a polling place — and yet not interfere with their days of religious worship — Congress opted to choose Tuesday as our national day of voting.

That’s been the case since 1845, and now, 165 years later, we’re still relying on this horse-and-buggy scenario for our iPhone-mad society.

The San Francisco plan would duplicate the Tuesday vote, with all the precincts open on the preceding Saturday. Tourk said that if passed, the measure — which qualified for the ballot after backers gathered 7,178 signatures — would require him to raise roughly $1 million to pay for the extra voting day.

“And I’ve never raised a million dollars, but that’s how much I believe in it,” he said.

Starting the weekend-voting movement in San Francisco makes some sense, since our fine citizens have created a system whereby city supervisors can get elected with less than 6,000 votes. And, we have elected some top office-holders in the past (including the city attorney) with less than 15 percent of the vote.

But I can give a better reason for supporting a Saturday vote. We should do it because our leaders in Congress don’t want to change the current system. They like the status quo on the belief that they can more easily manipulate the numbers that turn out for our general elections, which rarely top 47 percent.

Tuesday voting is a monument to cynicism. A few members of Congress, notably Sen. Herb Kohl of Wisconsin and Rep. Steve Israel of New York, have tried to introduce weekend-voting initiatives and have met a steel wall of resistance. A bill to change the election voting day has been introduced in Congress seven times, and not a single one has ever been heard in committee.

This would be the same Congress whose members can’t explain why we vote on Tuesdays. If you want to see the evidence for yourself, visit www.whytuesday.org and see the videos of such reputable officials as California Sen. Dianne Feinstein and former presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry looking flummoxed when asked why our nation goes to the polls on that special day.

It’s funny and sad at the same time.

Weekend voting would help fix a broken system. Then, we can move on to flunking out the Electoral College.

Still, proving that no good deed goes unpunished, Tourk said some members of the Jewish community are upset that he picked the Sabbath for his test day. Tourk just happens to be Jewish.

Oy vey. It could have been a bloody Sunday.

Ken Garcia appears Tuesdays and Fridays in The Examiner. Check out his blog at sfexaminer.com/opinion or e-mail him at kgarcia@sfexaminer.com.

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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