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The Journal Gazette

Monday, February 11, 2019 1:00 am

Ohio city to observe paid Election Day

Washington Post

Sandusky, Ohio, is ditching Columbus Day in favor of Election Day as a paid holiday in a decision that officials hope would send a message that the city values voting rights and diversity over a contentious holiday that many Americans already don't celebrate.

“Ultimately, we knew that Columbus Day was a day that all of our citizens couldn't necessarily be proud of celebrating. One of the things we're doing is to begin to celebrate and build on the strength that is our diversity,” Eric Wobser, Sandusky's city manager, told the Washington Post, adding that the city has passed anti-discrimination legislation. “Columbus Day was not a way for us to show that we value our diversity.”

Sandusky's population of almost 25,000 is nearly 70 percent white, 23 percent black and 7 percent Hispanic. The city is more Democratic than the rest of Erie County, which voted for President Donald Trump in 2016. But it swung to blue last year and elected Democratic U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown.

The move means that Sandusky's more than 200 government employees would receive paid time off every election that falls in November. Wobser said officials are hoping to convince local private companies to observe the holiday as well. Nationwide, more than 300 companies pledged to give their employees paid time off on Election Day last year despite the absence of federal regulation.

The decision comes amid a partisan debate over whether to make Election Day a federal holiday. A bill that would, among other things, expand voter access by making the first Tuesday of November a nationwide holiday was introduced last month. Democrats called it a broad effort to give power to Americans by making it easier for them to vote. Republicans, specifically Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, called it a “power grab” designed to skew the voting landscape in favor of Democrats.

Experts have said that the United States has a low voter turnout because elections are held on a work day and that it imposes a significant burden on students and hourly workers who are unable to take time off to vote.

In 2001, the National Commission on Federal Election Reform recommended making Election Day a federal holiday and merging it with Veterans Day. Fourteen states, including Puerto Rico, already consider Election Day a public holiday.

Dozens of cities and several states have also abandoned Columbus Day by rebranding the second Monday of October as Indigenous Peoples' Day to honor the country's inhabitants before the arrival of Christopher Columbus.

In Sandusky, efforts to scrap Columbus Day began in 2015, when officials first brought up the possibility to local unions that represent the city's police, fire and municipal employees. The negotiations didn't go far because government employees did not want to give up a paid holiday, Wobser said.

Last year – as national stories about concerns over voter access and whose vote counts dominated the news cycle – officials proposed giving up Columbus Day and making Election Day a citywide holiday. Unions supported it, and the city's commission passed the legislation last week.