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Pols want weekend elections

Photo by Phil Corso
By Phil Corso

Lawmakers in Queens are looking to change the way America votes.

U.S. Rep. Steve Israel (D-Melville) stood with state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) and state Assemblyman Ed Braunstein (D-Bayside) in front of one of northeast Queens’ polling stations Monday calling for a completely revamped election routine that would move voting day from Tuesday to the weekend.

The congressman said it was the fourth year he had called for such legislation along with colleagues, including Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.), in hopes that it could curb the country’s declining voter participation numbers.

“By moving Election Day from a single day in the middle of the work week to a full weekend, we are encouraging more working Americans to participate,” Israel said in front of the Clearview Senior Center, where borough residents cast their votes in Tuesday’s election. “Our democracy will be best served when our leaders are elected by as many Americans as possible.”

About 57.5 percent of eligible voters made it out to the polls in the 2012 elections. New York state came out in 44th place out of the 50 states for voter participation last year.

The elected officials said they were behind the federal legislation as a way to reverse a sinking trend that currently has the United States ranked 138th out of 172 democracies nationwide in voter turnout and dead last out of the G8 countries.

Israel argued that traditional Tuesday voting was a thing of the past because of a decision made back in 1845, when Congress initially chose the first Tuesday of November for elections so that farmers from agrarian societies could make it to the polls. He joined with members of the Why Tuesday? advocacy group in an attempt to spur a national movement and join several other democracies around the world to open up voting for weekends.

“It is disgraceful that the greatest democracy in the world ranks 138th out of 172 democracies in voter turnout,” said Andrew Young, chairman of Why Tuesday?. “We commend Reps. Israel and Larson for proposing the Weekend Voting Act, a commonsense and balanced way to make voting accessible to millions of Americans who find it difficult — or impossible — to reach the polls in the middle of the work week.”

Under the Weekend Voting Act, national polls would be open after the first Friday of November from 10 a.m. Saturday to 6 p.m. on Saturday, allowing time for voters of all ethnic and religious backgrounds to get out to vote. Currently, polls are typically open 12 hours on the first Tuesday of November from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Israel said the status quo has made long lines at polling stations all too common.

“Nobody should be too busy to participate in democracy,” Israel said. “This is just a matter of convenience and common sense.”

Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at pcorso@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.

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