Elections should be held one week after tax day

DFL State Senators have introduced legislation that would make voter registration automatic, and on Tuesday, newly-elected Congressman Dean Phillips (DFL) from Minnesota’s 3rd Congressional district introduced legislation that would make voting day a holiday.

I don’t spend an awful lot of time thinking about elections and voting patterns, but I do think it’s practically a crime that most elections are held in November, when taxes are due in April. A 2007 article from Kristina Rasmussen at the National Taxpayer’s Union agrees:

“Time heals all wounds” is usually offered as soothing advice to heart-broken lovers, but many spendthrift politicians have also embraced this axiom as they go about inflicting economic injuries upon taxpayers. A glance at a calendar and a quick calculation shows that the federal Tax Filing Day is exactly half-a-year away from the height of fall campaign season, when candidates are busy making grand policy promises.

As a result, early filers may see eight months pass between dropping a return in the mailbox and dropping a vote card in the ballot box. This passage of time serves as a buffer for lawmakers against an eruption of discontent with the painfully-messy Tax Code. Unsurprisingly, taxpayers often end up with elected officials who
give lip service to the idea of lower (or at least simpler) taxes, but rarely do these same politicians have to deal with the immediate consequences of failing to back up words with deeds.

Tax reformers who want to highlight the relationship between what Americans pay to the federal government and what they receive in return should advocate moving Tax Filing Day closer to Election Day, as it would likely have a positive impact on who is elected and what policy priorities are pursued by Congress. This Issue Brief seeks to explain the practicality, estimated costs, and possible policy outcomes of such a move.

Scheduling Tax Filing Day far away from Election Day conveniently serves a similar purpose: individuals working late into the night on April 14 may curse the politicians who dare to impose a monstrosity of a Tax Code, yet this frustration can seem a distant memory by election time, only to reemerge next April 15.

The decision to hold elections in November was made in 1845 to accommodate an agrarian society by holding the vote after the harvest was over. Today, fewer than 2 percent of Americans work on farms, and the number of man-hours needed to produce much more food has fallen dramatically thanks to modern technology. Furthermore, there was no individual income tax until 1913. 

I’d love to see a bill introduced in Congress that would move our elections from early November to the Tuesday after tax day. Maybe then we’d actually be able to hold politicians accountable for spending our tax dollars in frivolous and wasteful ways.