Commentary: Should Election Day Be An Official Holiday For Cincinnati City Workers?

Feb 20, 2019

If Sandusky, Ohio, blazes a trail, does Cincinnati follow?

We may soon find out.

Recently, the northwest Ohio city's elected officials declared that Election Day – the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November – will be a paid holiday for city employees.

Two Democratic City Council members in Cincinnati – P.G. Sittenfeld and Chris Seelbach – thought that sounded like a swell idea and have introduced a motion giving the city administration 30 days to report to council on the feasibility of doing the same thing for over 6,000 Cincinnati city employees.

"Any legislation that comes from this wouldn't force any private employers to do this, but we hope it would encourage them to do so,'' said Sittenfeld, who is likely to run for mayor in 2021.

"We want to make Election Day a holiday,'' Sittenfeld said.

To say this proposal has Republicans in the city looking at it with disapproval is an understatement.

"This is a solution in search of a problem,'' said Alex Triantafilou, chairman of the Hamilton County Republican Party. "It's a political stunt."

People in Cincinnati – and all over Ohio – already have 198 hours of early voting available to them, Triantafilou said.

"They can vote on Saturdays and on the Sunday leading up to the final day of voting in November,'' he said. "And they have an entire month to cast an absentee ballot from the comfort of their homes for the cost of one postage stamp. How much easier can it be to vote?" 

But apparently the idea of Election Day as an official holiday for city employees is not just about going to the polls and casting ballots.

Sittenfeld said the employees would be free to work the day as inside poll workers, campaign for candidates outside of the flags in front of polling places, or do whatever they wanted "to participate in the process."

"Cincinnati is a heavily Democratic city,'' Triantafilou said, in what might be the understatement of the year. "I can see what's going on here – it’s a way to get more union members out on Election Day working for Democratic candidates."

There is nothing partisan about this, Sittenfeld said.

"We have Democrats, Republicans, independents – all kinds of folks – working for the city,'' Sittenfeld said. "They'd all be free to do what they want on Election Day. The board of elections is always looking for more inside poll workers. And, as far as voting is concerned, this is just another way to make it easier for people to vote."

The council members, Triantafilou said, are proposing another government holiday, paid for by the beleaguered taxpayers, to allow government employees an entire day to accomplish something they can easily accomplish for a month before Election Day or from the comfort of their own homes.

The motion filed by Sittenfeld and Seelbach doesn't spell it out, but both council members say they want to swap out another paid holiday – probably Presidents' Day – for Election Day.

"This would be cost-neutral,'' Sittenfeld said.

Sittenfeld said they thought of trading Columbus Day for Election Day, but he said there are several city employee unions who have already swapped out Columbus Day for the Friday after Thanksgiving.

"Presidents' Day is the most likely,'' Sittenfeld said.

And, the Democrats say, it would likely not include people in essential positions like police officers or firefighters.

Several states have already made this a holiday for government employees. Ohio and Kentucky are not among them. (Indiana, however, is.) And Congress has several times considered declaring Election Day a holiday, including a bill introduced this year by House Democrats.

"(Senate Majority Leader) Mitch McConnell has called this a power grab by the Democrats,'' Triantafilou said. "I agree with Mitch."

Seelbach and Sittenfeld are convinced that, with a solid Democratic majority on council, such an ordinance would pass.

Then, it becomes a matter of whether or not Republicans and other opponents organize some kind of legal challenge or repeal effort. Triantafilou said it is too early to say what the GOP reaction would be.

"All I can say is, we know this holiday is absolutely unnecessary,'' Triantafilou said.

Credit Jim Nolan / WVXU

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