Two weeks ago, Kalamazoo County voted to make Election Day a paid holiday so that county workers may have a chance to exercise their right to vote. Kalamazoo County is headed in the right direction, and it’s time for the rest of Michigan—and the rest of the country as a matter of fact—to catch up.

In the United States, voting is often held up as a way to celebrate democracy and show your pride as an American. But what happens when election day rolls around and people  find themselves stuck? What happens when people are unable to vote because they’re a student with exams all day or a factory worker working overtime again to put food on their family’s table?

Many attribute low voter turnout to laziness or apathy but, in reality, structural barriers are why a large portion of the population doesn’t turn out to the polls on Election Day. Whether this is the inability to leave work, a tough class schedule, or a lack of transportation, this is something our elected officials can help with by making Election Day a paid holiday.

Last year, the citizens of Michigan made significant progress in voting rights by passing Proposal 3, which included same day voter registration, absentee voting without explanation, and automatic voter registration, but we haven’t completely eliminated barriers to voting. By not treating Election Day as a paid federal holiday, we’re leaving nonwhite people, working-class folks, students, and poor Americans behind when it comes to exercising their right to vote. 

When we knock down barriers to voting, voter turnout increases. Voting shouldn’t feel like another chore in the long list of things we must accomplish in our already busy day-to-day lives. We need to stop leaving people’s voices out. 

Our democracy exists to make sure everyone is able to make their voice heard and be  represented in our government. It’s way past time to make sure our policies reflect that. The ballot box should be accessible to every voter, not just those who are able to take time off work on Election Day or are able to afford childcare.

By not having Election Day as a paid holiday, we say to the hardworking people in our state who simply can’t find the time that day to make it because they’re too busy running our country that their votes don’t matter. By not having Election Day as a paid holiday, the state is making it harder for citizens to participate in our democracy. It’s unacceptable, and it’s about time we fixed it.

Democracy should not feel like a burden; it should be celebrated. All voting barriers must be eliminated before America can truly be a functioning democracy. Making Election Day a paid holiday is another step in the right direction.