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City council members file motion to declare election day a paid holiday

Election Day in the Tri-State
Posted at 6:45 PM, Feb 17, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-21 01:11:01-05

CINCINNATI — Cincinnati could soon have more in common with Sandusky than just popular theme parks.

Councilmember P.G. Sittenfeld announced Sunday that he and fellow councilmember Chris Seelbach have filed a motion to declare general election day a paid holiday.

"Legislation related to the issue of voting rights has too often focused on creating hurdles to the ballot box rather then finding commonsense solutions that encourage every voter to participate in the democratic process -- whether that person is a Republican, Democrat, Independent or otherwise," the motion document reads.

The motion specifically proposes that city administration provide an ordinance to include general election day as an official city holiday, "for the purpose of allowing city employees the opportunity to fully participate in the democratic process -- including, but not limited to, casting a ballot."

The document also makes the point that, in the 2018 election, fewer than 58 percent of eligible voters made it to the polls. However, 2018 was a midterm election year, which has historically drawn fewer voters than presidential election years. Statewide, the average voter turnout in 2018 was about 55 percent -- the highest midterm turnout since 1994, when 57 percent of eligible voters headed to the polls during the Clinton administration.

"I'm skeptical about whether it actually results in more people voting, but if it does, that's a great thing," Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose told WCPO in regards to Sandusky's decision. "The first thought I had is that, now that the city of Sandusky has done that, the Erie County Board of Elections should have a easier time recruiting poll workers that day. Every county is always looking for civic-minded poll workers to come out and work on election day at the polls, and that's a struggle in every county to recruit enough people from both parties to come out and work the polls."

The motion, though similar to the one voted in by Sandusky on Jan. 28, does have some key differences.

The most obvious difference is that Sandusky's ruling moved to swap paid holidays -- Columbus Day for election day -- not just add one onto the calendar. The motion put forward by Sittenfeld and Seelbach mentions no such swap, which would appear to add a paid city holiday to the calendar.

Sittenfeld's office clarified this, telling WCPO the verbiage in the motion was intentionally left generic to allow council to discuss the option of swapping a holiday out for election day. They're eyeing President's Day, because Cincinnati already does not observe Columbus Day as a paid holiday, but keeping the motion language vague allows for further discussion on the topic.

Another notable difference is that Sandusky is a much smaller city, weighing in at a population of roughly 25,000 while Cincinnati boasts closer to 301,000. Because of this dramatic size difference, it is hard to say whether or not the cities share the same reasons for low voter turnout.

It's also worth mentioning that declaring general election day a paid holiday is untested, and thus unproven to have an effect on voter turnout overall. The idea is not a new one; it's been kicked around on a national level for many years, and recently the Democratic-led House brought the idea back into the forefront. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell described the concept as a Democratic "power grab."