The Delirium of Democracy: Salsa and Chips, Republicans and Democrats, Balloons and the Ballot Box! What a Weekend!

By Quindlen, Anna | Newsweek, May 8, 2000 | Go to article overview

The Delirium of Democracy: Salsa and Chips, Republicans and Democrats, Balloons and the Ballot Box! What a Weekend!


Quindlen, Anna, Newsweek


Tuesday is a neglected middle child of a day. The weekend is not in sight; the work week is neither here nor there. "Saturday night is the loneliest night of the week"; "Monday, Monday." There are no songs about Tuesday. Nothing much happens, except that Americans vote.

If the body politic had a heart to go with its spleen, you might suspect Tuesday had been chosen for the same reason some of us choose the ugly puppy at the pound or the lopsided pumpkin from the patch. The least memorable, most nondescript, the day of the week that stands along the wall waiting in vain for someone to ask it to dance. There's a theory about why Tuesday was chosen as Election Day in 1845; it was a day when people were likely to take the buggy to town, when farmers came to sell their crops and traders to trade with the temporarily flush farmers.

Bye-bye, buggies.

In the same way that a school-year schedule organized around harvests and farm chores no longer makes much sense, elections built around farmer's markets are long overdue for an overhaul. Like golfing, shopping and quality time with the kids, voting should take place on weekends. All it would take to make that happen is a simple piece of congressional legislation. Of course, that is an oxymoron.

Let's recap: since Election Day was first set on the Tuesday after the first Monday, there has been the development of the automobile, the television, the personal computer, the automatic-teller machine and Game Boy Color. You can order books, bathing suits, even breakfronts online. Paychecks magically appear in your bank account; mortgage payments magically draw down your balance.

There has also, in recent years, been a constant decline in the number of Americans voting in presidential elections. In 1996, less than half of all eligible voters went to the polls. This gives a bizarre mathematical twist to the concept of majority rule; Bill Clinton was elected president--twice--with the support of fewer than one in four Americans. Conventional wisdom has it that voters don't vote because the candidates are lame. But the way in which they are elected is lamer still. Polls show that it is younger people who don't vote; perhaps that is in part because the way democracy works bears as much resemblance to the way they do business as two tin cans with a string between them does to a Palm pilot.

It is surely time to get rid of those voting machines that look as if they should be sitting in the back of a small-town antiques store, right between the Hoosier cabinet and the golden oak dresser. And it is time to change the day on which voting takes place. NBC anchorman Tom Brokaw has intrigued audiences when he suggests a weekend of voting and celebration, with the polls opening and closing at a fixed time throughout the country so that folks in California won't feel shut out. Each registered voter could cast an electronic ballot over a two-day period at computerized machines, somewhat like ATMs, available everywhere from shopping malls to football games. …

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