Should Election Day be a paid holiday? Butler County leaders weigh in

Sandusky last month made Election Day in November a paid holiday for its employees, and some on Cincinnati's City Council want to research the idea.

But many Butler County officials say it’s unlikely that would happen in communities in this county, barring Congress making it a federal holiday.

“To me, it’s just fairness. The taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay for an opportunity they don’t get themselves” said Butler County Commissioner Don Dixon. “We have a hard enough time running the county the way it is, but if we would do something like that, isn’t everyone entitled to that (paid day off)?”

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Local governments give their employees 10 paid holiday days off. Sandusky swapped out Columbus Day to make Election Day a holiday. Cincinnati council members P.G. Sittenfeld and Chris Seelbach are floating a swap with Presidents’ Day.

But officials in Butler County say it’s more complicated and nuanced than just swapping one day for another.

Fairfield Twp. Trustee Shannon Hartkemeyer said paid days off are negotiated in union contracts, and their contracts were recently collectively bargained. Fairfield City Manager Mark Wendling said one obvious downside is employees trying to parlay the Monday before Election Day to make a four-day weekend.

“We still have to be open that Monday, so productivity would likely decline,” he said.

Sandusky City Manager Eric Wobser told the Sandusky Register the city swapped the day to prioritize voting for "so that our employees can vote."

Middletown Mayor Larry Mulligan doesn’t believe Election Day needs to be a paid holiday to allow its city employees more time to vote.

“The state has expanded access to voting with early voting options and absentee ballots,” he said. “The polls in Middletown are well run and efficient thanks to the good work of the Butler County Board of Elections. A new holiday will not necessarily increase participation, and it would likely create disruptions for employers and commerce.”

Dixon, who has previously served on the Butler County Board of Elections, believes Ohio has the most access to voting than any other state. Polls are open from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. on Election Day, and the state provides voters 28 days of early-voting opportunities, which includes extended hours at the county boards of elections and allows eligible and registered voter the ability to vote-by-mail from home.

“There are adequate opportunities to vote,” Dixon said.

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Part of the Cincinnati proposal involves possibly pushing the day off as a day of service, according to Cincinnati officials, which Hamilton Mayor Pat Moeller said “makes it more worthy of a discussion.”

“It’s important enough for council to consider, and it’s important enough for the employees to give their feedback,” he said.

But a day of service aspect is added to giving employees a day off to vote “intrigues” the mayor.

Hartkemeyer said many of her township employees don’t need a paid day to volunteer, as many already do that. Many staffers will volunteer for Habitat for Humanity’s Rock the Block work day in April.

“A lot of staff, they go out and volunteer and work in the community already,” she said.

Liberty Twp. Trustee Steve Schramm called the idea “ridiculous” and a “fool’s errand,” and driven by political motives.

He said if the idea came up in the township he would entertain a discussion, but doesn’t see the need to give a day off to vote.

“It takes 15 minutes, or as long as an hour in worst case scenarios, (in Butler County) to vote,” he said. “You need the day off to do it?”

Most employers, Schramm said, would let an employee run out to vote.

“I see no merit in this other than an attempt by one party or the other to capture an electorate,” he said. “It seems foolish to me.”

The idea of making Election Day a federal holiday has been floated for a number of years, and U.S. House Democrats are pushing that in its voting reform bill known as “For the People Act of 2019.” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, called the Democrats’ legislation “a power grab.”

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