By Erin Corbett
February 10, 2019

A small Ohio city just made Election Day a paid holiday.

Last week, city leaders in Sandusky—a town of nearly 25,000 people on the shores of Lake Erie—swapped out Columbus Day in favor of giving residents paid time off to vote. The push comes as the country prepares for the 2020 presidential election, and amid a national debate about voter turnout and voter suppression.

“We were acting locally for local reasons but certainly we were inspired by the conversations happening at a statewide or national basis and those two things really synced up well together,” Sandusky’s City Manager Eric Wobser told CNN.

Presently, just 13 states have made Election Day a paid holiday, and only for state employees. More than 350 companies gave workers paid time off to vote in the 2018 midterms, including the outdoor clothing company Patagonia.

Democrats have pushed legislation that would make Election Day a federal holiday, which has garnered support among most Americans, while facing pushback from some prominent Republicans. According to a poll from the Pew Research Center, 71% of Democrats and 59% of Republicans backed the initiative.

Voter participation in the 2018 midterms was 10% higher than the same elections in 2014, the Center for American Progress (CAP) found. However, widespread voter suppression also caused a major hurdle, particularly for marginalized communities.

The CAP survey found that some of the most severe suppression happened in states with competitive races, including Georgia, Texas, Florida, and North Dakota. Election Day voter suppression measures varied from voter registration problems, to voter intimidation and harassment, to voter disenfranchisement, among others.

Progressives, such as Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have supported initiatives to make Election Day a national holiday. Ocasio-Cortez for her part suggested swapping out Columbus Day—which Native advocates have fought to change for years—for a federal Election Day holiday.

Back in Sandusky, Wobser said the change was motivated by addressing the issues with Columbus Day, while also improving voter access. “And you never know—in a place like Ohio, which obviously can often be considered a swing state, if enough cities were to make a move like this, maybe that’s enough to tip the scales in an election one way or the other,” Wobser told NPR.

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