Because the GOP has become so unpopular in recent years (and it doesn’t take a Stephen Hawking to figure out why), Republicans have had to resort to vote rigging and voter suppression. The reason is simple: the greater the voter turnout, the smaller the chances that Republicans will win. Unfortunately, due in no small part to long workdays and inflexible schedules, a significant number of Americans are unable to get to the polls.

Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders wants to change all of that. Even though he’s busy on the campaign trail, he’s still introducing legislation that would encourage greater voter participation, including making Election Day a recognized federal holiday. Sanders also plans to introduce a bill that would automatically register people to vote on their 18th birthday.

The idea that Election Day should be a national holiday is not a new one. Many democratic nations either hold elections on a weekend or recognize election day as an official holiday in order to encourage as much citizen participation as possible. The idea isn’t even unknown in the US. A number of states – among them, Delaware, New Jersey, New York and surprisingly, Kentucky, have made Election Day a civic holiday. In other states, such as California, there are laws in place requiring employers to give workers paid time off in order to go to the polls. In some states, including Washington and Oregon, voters can receive ballots well in advance of an election, fill them out at their leisure and either mail them back to their local commissioner’s office or drop them off at designated locations.

Sanders’ ideas couldn’t have come at a better time. In last year’s elections, voter turnout was a dismal 37% – which was a major reason that the GOP captured both houses of Congress. By way of comparison, voter participation in the 1850s was approximately 70%. Consider that in those days the US was primarily an agrarian nation. Many people were obliged to travel (by wagon or on horseback) from their farms to the nearest town in order to cast their ballots. The all-time low came in 1942, when a large number of voting-age Americans were overseas fighting the Second World War.

Recently, President Obama spoke out on the issue, advocating laws that would make voting mandatory. Such laws are in place in countries such as Australia, Belgium and Argentina, where citizens must cast their ballots or pay a fine. He points out that increasing voter participation would go a long way toward counteracting the corrupting influences of Citizens United. “If everyone were to vote, it would completely transform the political map in this country,” the President told a civic organization in Cleveland, Ohio this week.

It’s definitely not something the right wing wants to see happen. An article in the Washington Times was quite forthcoming on this aspect of the issue: “[The Democratic party] was trounced in last year’s midterm election due to poor turnout among Democrats…the President repeated his frequent complaint that Democrats tend to stay home in midterm elections.”

That is exactly how the GOP would like it. Most Republicans are just smart enough to realize how unpopular their corporatist, theocratic agenda is. They understand that the only way they will be able to shove their agenda down the American people’s collective throats is to discourage voting, whether through propaganda, vote rigging, voter suppression or a combination of all three.

The time has come to recognize voting not just as a right of citizenship, but as a civic duty. After all, generations of our ancestors fought – and died – for the right to have a voice in government.

K.J. McElrath is a former history and social studies teacher who has long maintained a keen interest in legal and social issues. In addition to writing for The Ring of Fire, he is the author of two published novels: Tamanous Cooley, a darkly comic environmental twist on Dante's Inferno, and The Missionary's Wife, a story of the conflict between human nature and fundamentalist religious dogma. When not engaged in journalistic or literary pursuits, K.J. works as an entertainer and film composer.