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Mitch McConnell: making Election Day a federal holiday is a Democratic “power grab”

McConnell is saying the quiet part out loud on voting rights.

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Senate Republicans Hold Conference Meeting To Elect Leadership Positions
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell calls Democrats’ HR 1 a “power grab.”
Alex Wong/Getty Images

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell doesn’t think Election Day should be a federal holiday because that would give Democrats too much power.

McConnell took to the Senate floor Wednesday to rail against HR 1, the sweeping anti-corruption proposal House Democrats have put forward as their first bill in the majority. Among many other measures, it proposes making Election Day a federal holiday and encourages private sector businesses to do the same.

McConnell, who calls the bill the “Democratic Politician Protection Act,” sees that as a “power grab.”

“Just what America needs, another paid holiday and a bunch of government workers being paid to go out and work ... [on Democratic] campaigns,” he snarked on the Senate floor. “This is the Democrat plan to restore democracy? ... A power grab.”

The proposal to make Election Day a federal holiday is based on a simple reality: A wide swath of the American public doesn’t vote — and most of those nonvoters say they skipped the polls because they had to work or get kids to school and didn’t have the time.

Currently, more than 20 states require employers to allow paid time off to vote. Others require employers to allow unpaid time off. Voting rights activists argue that making Election Day a federal holiday would promote more civic participation. Detractors say a federal holiday would be too big an ask of businesses that rely on day-to-day revenue.

McConnell is making a different argument altogether: He’s saying that making Election Day a federal holiday would result in unfavorable election outcomes for Republicans. More to the point, he’s saying that the more people vote, the worse it is for his party.

Democrats are trying to get Republicans to admit to voter suppression

McConnell’s position is likely rooted in the somewhat overblown conventional wisdom that higher turnout favors Democrats, a conclusion that’s reached largely because low-propensity voters tend, on average, to prefer Democratic candidates and liberal policies. Democrats also tend to turn out more voters on Election Day.

But it’s important to note that nonvoters are only slightly more Democratic than voters. As John Sides, a political scientist with George Washington University, explained in the Washington Post in 2015, even “if everyone voted, a lot would be the same.”

That said, voter suppression tactics, like cutting down voting hours or the number of polling stations, or purging voter rolls, do disproportionately impact minority and Democratic voters, as Vox’s German Lopez explained:

Since minority Americans are less likely to have flexible work hours or own cars, they might have a harder time affording a voter ID or getting to the right place...

For the same reasons, they may rely more on early voting opportunities to cast a ballot, or require a voting place they can walk to or reach by public transit. And they may have problems overcoming other hurdles, like having to appeal a voter registration or having to stay in line longer.

Democrats are pushing these voting rights changes to highlight this disadvantage. And by extension, McConnell, who made clear that Democrats’ proposals would not see the light of day in the Republican-controlled Senate, is saying the quiet part out loud: He doesn’t want more Democrats to participate.