WASHINGTON - Rep. Steve Israel had just one question for tourists and lawmakers on Capitol Hill last week: Why do we vote on Tuesday?
But after interviewing nearly 40 people in the last two days, Israel, D-N.Y., found only two who had a clue.
"Don't be embarrassed if you don't know the answer because hardly anybody does, including most members of Congress," said Israel, who videotaped the responses to his question and is posting them on WhyTuesday.org, a nonpartisan Web site dedicated to increasing voter turnout by election reform.
Israel submitted legislation in June that would switch voting for federal elections from Tuesday to Saturday and Sunday - an update to a law that has not been changed in 163 years. If passed, weekend voting could begin as soon as the 2010 midterm elections.
But why do we vote Tuesday?
In 1845, farmers needed time to travel - by horse and buggy - from the fields to the county seat to vote without interfering with the three-day Sabbath or Wednesday, which was market day. So, Congress chose Tuesday to make voting easier for citizens of an agrarian society.
Now, one in four people who don't vote say it's because weekdays are inconvenient. The United States is 114th in the world in voter participation - lower than any other democracy.
But no research proves moving Election Day would increase voter turnout, said Doug Chapin, the director of Pew Research Center's ElectionLine.org. In most states, people can vote on the weekends through early and absentee voting.
"Tuesday has history and inertia on its side," said Chapin. "Changing it is more trouble than leaving it where it is."
But the idea has considerable bipartisan support and the next Congress could pass the legislation, said Norman Ornstein, a political analyst at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, who helped launch Why Tuesday in 2005.
'Voter participation is not a red or a blue issue, it's a red, white and blue issue," said Jacob Soboroff, executive director of Why Tuesday. "I don't buy in to the argument that more turnout or less turnout advantages one party."
Israel's call for weekend voting echoes other lawmakers, including Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., and Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wis., who co-sponsored a companion bill in the Senate.
Distributed by the Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service