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Wamsley writes: "Sandusky, Ohio, is a small city on the shores of Lake Erie. It's best known among Midwesterners as the home of Cedar Point, an amusement park famed for its abundance of roller coasters. But last week city leaders took steps that could make Sandusky known as a leader of democracy, too: They declared Election Day a paid holiday - by swapping out Columbus Day."

Commissioners in Sandusky, Ohio, have voted to make Election Day a city holiday, in place of Columbus Day. Sandusky resident Moses Croom is seen here voting at a polling station at a local library in November 2008. (photo: Jason Werling/Sandusky Register)
Commissioners in Sandusky, Ohio, have voted to make Election Day a city holiday, in place of Columbus Day. Sandusky resident Moses Croom is seen here voting at a polling station at a local library in November 2008. (photo: Jason Werling/Sandusky Register)


Sandusky, Ohio, Makes Election Day a Paid Holiday - by Swapping Out Columbus Day

By Laurel Wamsley, NPR

10 February 19

 

andusky, Ohio, is a small city on the shores of Lake Erie. It's best known among Midwesterners as the home of Cedar Point, an amusement park famed for its abundance of roller coasters.

But last week city leaders took steps that could make Sandusky known as a leader of democracy, too: They declared Election Day a paid holiday – by swapping out Columbus Day.

"A lot's happened in the last three years that had us thinking a lot about voter access and democracy, and so we thought it was a really natural switch," Sandusky City Manager Eric Wobser tells NPR. The move was first reported by the Sandusky Register.

In a national political climate where so much is fiercely contentious, was the holiday swap really as easy as that?

Wobser says it was, and it wasn't.

In 2014 negotiations with the unions that represent police, firefighters, and municipal workers, the city suggested dropping Columbus Day, but giving up a paid holiday was a non-starter, Wobser says. So when negotiations for 2019-2021 started up last year, the city had a new proposal: replacing Columbus Day with Election Day.

The unions agreed.

"Participation in the government at all levels is essential for everyone," says Ed Dayringer, president of Local 1519 of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents 97 of the city's employees. He's also an engineering technician with the city. "As a city, we want to ensure to give our people the opportunity to get out and vote," he tells NPR.

The biggest sticking point in the negotiations was that most people would rather have a three-day weekend than a Tuesday off. But after talking through the larger civic purpose behind the change, all parties agreed to it.

After that, it was just a matter of changing the legislation that governs observed holidays. "We did that with an emergency vote that took place and was passed unanimously on first reading at our last meeting," Wobser says. "And ultimately we have gotten very little pushback about it."

Police and firefighters will still work scheduled shifts and receive holiday pay for the hours they work, as they do on other official holidays.

"Our city's growing and evolving with the times," Dayringer says. "I think we have a lot of forward thinking here at the city, and that's probably what sparked a lot of the change."

Sandusky, with a population of about 26,000, is 69 percent white, 23 percent black, and 7 percent Hispanic or Latino. American Indians comprise only 0.4 percent of the city's population, according to the Census Bureau.

There have been ongoing national conversations about the issues with honoring Christopher Columbus, a name that many have come to associate with the oppression of indigenous peoples. Indeed, a number of cities have renamed the second Monday in October as Indigenous Peoples' Day. But Wobser isn't aware of any other U.S. cities that have moved to stop observing Columbus Day and replace it with an Election Day holiday.

"One of the things that we really pride ourselves strongly on Sandusky, is we're probably the only urban city in a few county area in this part of the state," says Wobser. "And we want to be mindful of and prideful about our diversity in the city, and really kind of celebrate the diversity in the city. So we look at a variety of ways in which we can become more welcoming, and ultimately focus on that."

He says the change was partly about addressing the challenges presented by Columbus Day, but also about embracing a chance to "think globally but act locally" to improve voter access on Election Day.

"We don't have to wait necessarily for states or the federal government to make this change, but that ultimately cities can do it in a case by case basis," he says. "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."

The change so far only affects Sandusky's 250 city workers. Wobser calls it a small gesture, but an important one.

"This will make it a little easier for them to vote, and potentially participate in democracy in other ways on Election Day. But we're very hopeful that the message that it sends will be contagious."

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+5 # DongiC 2019-02-10 10:25
This is a tremendous idea. Election Day will enable more people to get out and vote. Suffrage is like oxygen to a democracy, Besides, Native
Americans dislike Columbus Day as it reminds them of a very sad event in their lives - the arrival on the scene of the dreaded Europeans with their savage culture of conquest and control.
 
 
0 # futhark 2019-02-10 22:50
I'm a pretty firm believer in discovering what may work elsewhere well elsewhere and adapting it rather than trying to come up with an original solution to a problem that may require a considerable investment in time and energy to fine tune. I survived over 30 years as a high school science teacher in part by borrowing or emulating the best practices of other teachers, adapting them to my circumstances.

If Canada or Norway has a medical insurance program that serves the people better than ours does, cheaper and with a higher quality of care, why not explore the possibility of copying them?

The one thing I miss about the old Columbus Day was the day off school while the weather was still mild, a good time to wind down the kitchen garden, rake leaves, go for a walk, or, in this case, go cast my vote. Hooray for Sandusky and its totally rational election day idea!
 
 
-5 # Cowboy 45 2019-02-10 10:43
Sounds kinda Racist. If 69% of their population is white and we assume that the diversity of the local government is in line with the general population of the city, then they are making it disproportionat ely much easier for white people to vote, while only making that benefit available to a small percentage of people of color.
 
 
+1 # Texas Aggie 2019-02-10 17:07
I hope you were just trying to be silly. Your logic is the same as saying that taxing CEO's of corporations is not only ageist and racist but also sexist because the large majority of CEO's are old white men.
 
 
0 # Cowboy 45 2019-02-10 20:33
Or the same as saying voter ID laws are racist.
 
 
+4 # Forbes 2019-02-10 10:51
Great Idea
 
 
+4 # dotlady 2019-02-10 11:38
Good riddance to Columbus day honoring the taking of American lands from indigenous peoples.
 
 
-1 # Cowboy 45 2019-02-10 20:49
That is not what he was honored for.
 
 
+3 # apotem 2019-02-10 12:04
Great idea!
 

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