An enterprising Rutgers student who was at the White House as part of a college journalism program asked President Obama if he would do a one-on-one interview with the Rutgers student newspaper, and Obama said yes, and it happened, and if I’m not mistaken, the interview involves breaking news in the form of Obama, for the first time ever, endorsing the idea that Election Day should be a holiday in order to help improve turnout.
The conversation starts with an excellent question that should always be asked when one is interviewing a president of the United States:
THE DAILY TARGUM: Hello, is this President Obama?
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: It is.
Obama and the Rutgers journalist, Dan Corey, then go on to have a substantive discussion of a number of issues, including voting. Here’s their exchange on that subject:
THE TARGUM: You have pointed out many times that voter turnout in the United States is very low, especially compared to other developed nations. But in many other countries, the government automatically registers voters and holds elections on days that are weekend days or national holidays. Do you think it’s time for the U.S. to follow their lead?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Absolutely. We are the only advanced democracy that makes it deliberately difficult for people to vote. And some of it has to do with the nature of our history and our Constitution, where we allow individual states to determine their own processes for structuring elections within certain boundaries.
I think that we know some states like Oregon are doing a much better job at extending mail-in voting, increasing tools like online voting that are safe and secure, give people flexibility over a long period of time, (and) early voting. And so everything we can do to make sure that we’re increasing participation is something that we should promote and encourage. Our democracy is not going to function well when only half or a third of eligible voters are participating.
The single most dramatic political change that could occur in this country—and the best way for us to relieve the frustrations that people feel around the political process—would be if we had greater participation that was more reflective of the day-to-day concerns that people have.
Obama has previously endorsed the idea of mandatory voting but never, as far as I can tell, said he supports the movement to make Election Day a holiday—an idea that is also backed by Bernie Sanders, who introduced an election-holiday bill in 2015. (The proposal is unlikely to go anywhere in a Republican Congress, for what it’s worth, because it would make it easier for people with inflexible work schedules to vote, which means more working-class and lower-income voters, which means more votes for Democrats.)