Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) bows his head in prayer during an event on Capitol Hill, Feb. 24, 2016 in Washington, D.C.
Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty

McConnell says a little too much in his case against an election holiday

The House Democrats’ top priority for this Congress is a democracy-reform package called the For the People Act (HR 1), which is quite ambitious in its scope. As we discussed yesterday, the bill is intended to create significant ethics and lobbying reforms, end partisan gerrymandering, expand voting rights, and improve government transparency.

But one of the key provisions is an idea that many reformers have touted for years: Election Day in the United States should be a federal holiday. Since elections are generally held on Tuesdays – a workday for most – setting the day aside as a holiday would make it easier for millions of Americans to participate in their democracy.

There’s polling suggesting most Americans – including majorities of Democratic and Republican voters – support the idea.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) appears to disagree. Mother Jones’ Ari Berman explained yesterday:

Democrats have long accused Republicans of restricting access to the ballot because Republicans are likelier to win when fewer people vote. On Wednesday, the GOP leader in the Senate appeared to admit that they’re right.

On the Senate floor, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced his opposition to a relatively uncontroversial measure that would make Election Day a federal holiday in order to make it easier for people to get to the polls. He called it a “power grab” that would help Democrats win elections.

This comes just two weeks after the Senate GOP leader wrote a Washington Post  op-ed condemning the Democratic legislation, and singling out the idea of an election holiday as especially pernicious. McConnell wrote, “This is the Democrats’ plan to ‘restore democracy’: extra taxpayer-funded vacation for bureaucrats to hover around while Americans cast their ballots.”

It’s worth emphasizing that the Senate Republican could’ve simply ignored the proposal. Even if the For the People Act passes the Democratic-led House, which seems likely, McConnell could refuse to consider the bill, letting it wither on the vine until it’s forgotten.

Apparently, however, that’s not quite good enough for the Kentucky lawmaker. He doesn’t just oppose the reform measures; and he doesn’t just intend to let the bill die; McConnell wants everyone to know just how much he’s outraged by the progressive ideas.

But his case against an election holiday appears to give away too much. To hear McConnell tell it, if it’s easier for more Americans to participate in their own democracy, it’ll be harder for Republicans to win elections. Easier access to the ballot box, the argument goes, means worse results for the GOP.

I believe this is something generally known as “saying the quiet part loud.”

Indeed, McConnell’s vision slips into the bizarre: he envisions a dynamic in which federal “bureaucrats” would exploit an election holiday to “hover” while other Americans vote. I’m not altogether sure what this means, but it’s apparently intended to sound scary.

Occasionally, business leaders have suggested a federal election holiday would put an undue burden on employers, who, the argument goes, shouldn’t have to give their workers another paid day off. In hindsight, maybe McConnell should’ve stuck to that script?

Mitch McConnell and Voting Reform

McConnell says a little too much in his case against an election holiday