What, in a democratic form of government, is more important than the freedom to vote? Election days, seen in the long context of human history, have an importance that truly transcends the workaday world. For that reason, proposals to shift national election days in the US to Sunday and have uniform nationwide voting hours have much to commend them. Sunday voting has been given tentative support by three former presidents, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and Jimmy Carter.
Legislation now before the Senate and House would do just that. The basically identical measures have been introduced by a somewhat unlikely tandem, New York Democrat Mario Biaggi in the House and California Republican S. I. Hayakawa in the Senate. The proposals would shift national elections that are currently held on Tuesdays to Sundays. Voting hours throughout the US would be uniform, based on 12 to 9 p.m. eastern standard time. That means that polls on the US West Coast would be open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. For Hawaii and most of Alaska, polls would be open from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. The exception would be that small part of Alaska in the Bering time zone, where polls would be open from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m.
The legislation would be a test -- involving national elections between 1982 and 1988 -- to see how well the system worked. The uniform hours and Sunday provisions would be required for presidential elections in 1984 and 1988. The Sunday provision would apply to congressional elections in off-years, with hours to be set locally.
While news media would not be barred from conducting interviews with voters as they left polling places, they obviously would not be able to make electoral projections based on the closing of polls in the East, as is currently the case.
Mr. Nixon, for his part, wonders whether some church groups might oppose Sunday voting. Sunday voting is common in many democratic nations, such as West Germany, France, Italy, Sweden, Iceland, and Japan. If there were to be strong religious objections, one answer might be to shift the election to Saturday or, if it is retained on Tuesday, making the day a national holiday. The Biaggi-Hayakawa bills, which have already won support from elections experts throughout the US, including the West Coast and A laska, should be given a chance.