As a European I was quite shocked to hear that people in the USA have to take an unpaid vacation day from work to be able to take part in elections.

  1. Is that really true? So do people really get their salary reduced in a month where they take part in an election? Can an employer even refuse to give a vacation day for voting?

  2. Does it have to be a full day? Or could it also be only a few hours?

  3. Why are elections not held on the weekend in the USA as it is common in Europe?

  • 5
    I think that this would be a better fit at politics.SE. You might also want to focus the question. The third question could stand well on it's own, and would definitely be a good fit at politics.SE (and is definitely off-topic here). The answer to the first two questions is probably "it depends" (on the polling place, on the kind of employment, etc), so they might be too broad. It might help if you could find a notable claim on the issue which could be fact-checked here.
    – tim
    Commented Dec 28, 2018 at 10:58
  • 6
    It is really true that you don't get paid time off to vote in the US, unless your employer chooses to offer it. However, polling places are supposed to be open early enough in the morning and late enough in the evening to allow people to vote before or after work without needing to take time off for it. Commented Dec 28, 2018 at 11:20
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    @JanDoggen: I am guessing because they are from a region that has elections on a weekend. Wikipedia has a table.
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Dec 28, 2018 at 13:24
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    FWIW, I don't remember a weekend election in the UK in my memory, and people generally go before or after work, or vote postally. Whether the UK counts as "in Europe" is up for debate but I think the suggestion that weekend elections are commonplace across the entirety of Europe is misleading. Perhaps replace "Europe" with your country of residence to be clearer - certainly I'd be interested in hearing what country that is! Commented Dec 28, 2018 at 14:21
  • 6
    Are you asking if unpaid vacation needs to be taken to vote 'conveniently', or if it's required to vote at all? Most people confuse the inconvenience of having to wait in line after work, to not being able to vote at all. Commented Dec 28, 2018 at 16:50

3 Answers 3


The rules vary by state. The majority of states require employers to grant paid time off for workers to vote unless there is a substantial period outside of their normal working hours that they could vote. Vote411.org has a summary of every state's rules.

BusinessInsider has a similar summary, claiming that 30 out of 50 states require employers to allow people to leave early to vote.

In Minnesota, for example,

You have a right to take time off work to vote without losing your pay, personal leave, or vacation time. Your employer must pay you for the time you need to vote, if it falls within your scheduled work time. Your employer cannot require you to use personal leave or vacation time (see Minnesota Statutes 204C.04 and 204C.08 subd. 1d)
from the Minnesota Secretary of State website, https://www.sos.state.mn.us/elections-voting/election-day-voting/time-off-work-to-vote/

As for "why not have it on a weekend", Wikipedia has this to say:

A uniform date for choosing presidential electors was instituted by the Congress in 1845. Many theories have been advanced as to why the Congress settled on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November.[5] The actual reasons, as shown in records of Congressional debate on the bill in December 1844, were fairly prosaic. The bill initially set the day for choosing presidential electors on "the first Tuesday in November," in years divisible by four (1848, 1852, etc.) [...]

In 1845, the United States was largely an agrarian society. Farmers often needed a full day to travel by horse-drawn vehicles to the county seat/parish seat to vote. Tuesday was established as election day because it did not interfere with the Biblical Sabbath or with market day, which was on Wednesday in many towns.

Since then, there simply has not been the political will to pass a change.

  • 29
    In my experience no one actually exercises this right to vote with out losing pay, and most employers are not aware of it or hide this information. The problem probably arises from at-will employment. For example, if you worked in retail and told your manager that you are exercising your right to vote and be paid, and leaving early to go voting. Then you will probably be fired the next day. Your reason for being fired won't be taking leave to vote, it will be some other made up reason that falls under your at-will employment. But you will still be fired. More common is voting before work. Commented Dec 28, 2018 at 14:08
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    In my experience no one ever took a holiday for it. They would just let the boss know they were going to be late or would do it during lunch ; or after work. I haven't ever been threatened with being fired for this. Imagine what negative backlash this would have if a company fired people for voting?
    – LUser
    Commented Dec 28, 2018 at 17:22
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    In my experience, a 15 hour window to vote usually isn't fully eclipsed by a work shift.
    – user11643
    Commented Dec 28, 2018 at 18:17
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    It is also worth noting absentee ballots, which allows for voting at the voter's convivence, as you receive and send your vote through the mail. The laws concerning this vary by state (as any other election law); Virginia for instance allows you to apply for a absentee ballot if you are working/commuting for at least 11 hours during voting hours (1E), among others. Other states do not require a reason for obtaining an absentee ballot, and Washington state only does voting by mail for the other side of the spectrum
    – Jimmy M.
    Commented Dec 29, 2018 at 5:21

While this is true for some people, the number affected is likely to be low.

  • Polling places are generally open for at least 12 hours, so being unable to vote due to work would mean you would need a very long commute or be working very long hours.

  • Depending on your state and your circumstances you should be able to vote early or by post if you can't get to your local polling place on election day. However this requires planning ahead and the details vary across the country, so some eligible voters might not get through the bureaucracy.

For those who find they need to take time off it depends on the employer. Most employers will allow a vacation day given enough notice. This will be paid, but come out of the annual vacation allowance. Some employers will allow half days, others don't. Some may simply refuse to allow that particular day to be taken off on the grounds of staff shortage. Simply not turning up is a violation of your employment contract, not an "unpaid vacation day".

Of course US elections are so finely balanced that even a small number of voters can make a difference.

  • 2
    Saying that people are not affected by the lack of paid time off to vote is not true. Just because someone can vote before or after work does not mean they are not affected by the option to vote during regular work hours. Secondly, US elections are not usually very finely balanced. Most national senators and representatives win their races by a wide margin. In presidential races, most states are not swing states. Florida in 2000 was the exception, not the rule. Commented Dec 28, 2018 at 17:16
  • Note that early voting is a very recent option, it was first implemented 2 years ago. Voting by mail is only done in 3 states.
    – Barmar
    Commented Dec 28, 2018 at 17:39
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    @Barmar: Depends on the state. In my own (Nevada), early voting has been available for a decade, and absentee voting (by mail) has been an option at least as long as I've voted. You may be confusing the option to vote by mail with elections conducted entirely by mail.
    – jamesqf
    Commented Dec 28, 2018 at 18:25
  • @jamesqf I just misread the results of a google search. It gave the first use in Massachusetts, and I thought it was saying this was the first instance anywhere in the US.
    – Barmar
    Commented Dec 28, 2018 at 18:28

U.S. voting laws vary from state to state. A typical law guarantees two hours unpaid time off to vote.

Though many states allow employees to have up to three hours off during the time the polls are open (the number of hours varies by state), nearly all of the states allow employers to refuse time off to vote. -- https://aflcio.org/2016/11/5/know-your-rights-state-laws-employee-time-vote

Some state laws require employers to give their employees a specific amount of time off to cast their ballots. In some states, this time off must be paid; -- https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/taking-time-off-voting-jury-29708.html


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