AUGUSTA — Lawmakers will consider a proposal this session to make Election Day a state holiday.

“We should have a day where we really celebrate our democracy,” said state Rep. Ben Collings, a Portland Democrat.

Supporters of the idea, which has been picking up steam for years, say that more people would have a chance to vote if fewer had to go to work.

It goes beyond that for Collings, though.

He said he introduced the bill in part with the hope that Mainers would rally behind the idea out of a sense of patriotism and respect for the many people who have struggled to preserve and enhance voting, from veterans on the battlefield to suffragettes and civil rights marchers.

Though past efforts to make Election Day a holiday flopped, there is some momentum behind it now, not just in Maine but across the country.

At least seven states already include Election Day among their holidays, a long tradition in most of them, including New Hampshire. But many more states are eyeing the idea, including California, Virginia and Idaho.

The U.S. House of Representatives is also considering a measure that would declare Election Day a national holiday. It is among the provisions in HR 1, a bill Democrats say would bring sweeping reform to American elections and campaigns.

U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo, a California Democrat, recently said in a prepared statement that “people should not be forced to choose between their job or family and exercising their right to vote.”

“We must do all we can to remove barriers to the ballot box,” said U.S. Rep. Donald McEachin, a Virginia Democrat who is co-sponsoring the Election Day Holiday Act with Eshoo.

Collings said most Democrats in the Legislature probably support the proposed holiday and at least some Republicans are open to the idea.

It’s far from an open-and-shut case, though.

Two years ago, Lewiston City Clerk Kathy Montejo testified about the idea on behalf of the Maine Town and City Clerks Association, which took no position on whether it should pass.

Montejo said that making Election Day a holiday might make it easier for some to vote “if their place of employment is closed for the day.”

It would also make for easier parking at polling places located at schools, she said, and would allow for hiring staff from other municipal departments to work at the polls because their own offices would be closed.

On the other hand, Montejo said, it would cost more to set up and clean polling places because Public Works personnel would collect a holiday pay rate higher than their normal salaries. Clerk’s office staff would also receive holiday pay.

Montejo said the secretary of state’s office also would have to pay a holiday rate for the workers it needs on Election Day.

The state in 2017 figured it would cost taxpayers an additional $6,700 a year to cover the tab for Election Day staffing at the secretary of state’s office if elections were held on a holiday.

It said, too, the extra cost for municipalities “could be significant,” the analysis found, but no estimate of the tab was made.

It is not clear how much difference a holiday would make in terms of bolstering turnout at the polls.

Collings said Mainers can vote early or go to the polls after work, but that does not always suffice. He said that busy work schedules get in the way for some and parents can also find it difficult to find time to cast a ballot.

The U.S. Census Bureau, in its analysis of the 2016 election, found that 15 percent of those who did not cast a ballot cited a lack of time or scheduling conflicts as the cause.

Forty percent of the non-voters said they either were not interested or did not like any of the candidates so they chose to stay away from the polls.

Other reasons given to census questions were illness, absence from town, trouble with voter registration or just plain forgetting about the election.

Collings said he would like to see towns and cities making an effort to promote voting as part of a new Election Day holiday. Local officials could call attention to the sacrifices of earlier generations to secure the right to vote for African-Americans, women and Native Americans, among others.

No public hearing, the first step on the road to becoming law, was yet scheduled for the bill.

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Voters at Auburn Middle School in November 2018. (Sun Journal photo by Steve Collins)

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