The town of Norton is quietly leading a revolution that could change how local governments are elected, and may even save grassroots democracy itself.
Town officials are proposing the radical idea — hold on to your hats now — that local elections, for selectmen, school committee, planning board and the like, be held on a Saturday instead of Tuesdays.
That’s it. We warned you it was revolutionary.
It’s a proposal that would mean town officials could open polls in local schools with no worries of disrupting classes or posing a risk to students from increased traffic.
Voters would no longer have the excuse that they can’t get to the polls on a workday. Sure, we know, Saturdays are busy too, but voting now would become just one more in a list of weekend errands around town.
Along with driving kids to soccer practice, grocery shopping and trips to the hardware store, stop in at the polls and take a hand in deciding how your hometown is going to be run for the next year.
Why do we vote on Tuesdays in the first place, you may ask? It’s because most communities — following the practice of the several states — are influenced by the fact that, by law, federal elections are to be held on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November.
But why Tuesday? Historians tell us that for the first half century or so of the Republic’s existence, states had set up a crazy quilt of election days. By 1845, Congress decided to bring some order to the system.
Tuesday was selected because making Monday Election Day would require people to travel to the polls by buggy on the Sabbath, which was unacceptable for a religious people.
Wednesday was market day, and farmers wouldn’t be able to make it to the polls. So it was decided that Tuesday would be the day that Americans would vote in elections.
So if you are still traveling to market by horse and buggy, by all means, keep Election Day on Tuesday. But in most of the democratic world (or even in places that just want to pretend they are democracies) elections take place on the weekend when most people do not have to work.
Even in those few countries where elections are not on Saturday or Sunday, election day is often an official national holiday.
For years, local officials, and the editorial page of this newspaper, have urged the citizens of our local communities to get out and vote and reverse the dismal trend of turnout percentages that are often in the single digits.
We have tried cajoling, shaming and even — in an abortive attempt in Seekonk — effectively bribing people to come to the polls or to town meetings.
Maybe all it will take is to make it less hard to vote.
We hope Norton’s attempt is a success. And we hope it inspires other communities to follow suit.