This year, it falls on November 6… which, as always, is a Tuesday. It’s Election Day. But why does our election day fall on a Tuesday of all the days of the week? In a time when we are fighting against voter turnout that only gets around 50%, shouldn’t we think about moving the day?
Election Day was officially set up by Congress in 1845. Before that, Congress permitted states to conduct presidential elections at any time in a 34-day period before the first Wednesday of December. But as communications increased, this gave certain candidates advantages, especially if they started winning some of the more popular states (or earlier voting states). It also aided in voter fraud as people could go from state to state in that time and vote again for their candidate. We speak of voter fraud in our current times, though it is more difficult to do, but back then, it was a lot easier. Especially, if it was in an area that was more in favor of a certain candidate.
The date was set on the first Tuesday of November because the harvest would be completed and the most severe winter storms won’t be hitting the upper Midwest and the mountain areas at that time. We must remember that society at this time was largely agrarian… especially the farther west one went. Farmers needed time to be able to have enough time to get into the county seat (usually by a horse drawn buggy), still observe the Sabbath, and not interfere with market days. The only choice was a Tuesday. Congress was originally setting it up to be the first Tuesday of the month, but in some years, that first Tuesday would fall early enough that it would violate the 1792 law of voting in that 34-day period ending with the first Wednesday of December. The solution… the first Tuesday after the first Monday.
So that’s why we have Election Day when we do. But in today’s more urban society, is this a date that has outlived itself? We have motorized vehicles. Our polling places are generally closer to our homes. We can usually go back and forth sometime in an hour… even in rural areas. And we have even introduced early voting in several states… some of which have already started at the time that I’m writing this. Most western democratic nations hold their election day on the weekend… and some of them have it last both Saturday and Sunday. Those countries usually see a higher voter turnout than we do in our own.
In several states (Delaware, Hawaii, Kentucky, Montana, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, and West Virginia), Election Day is a civic holiday. Other states require that workers be permitted to take necessary time off work to vote with full pay. California law allows for workers to be given two hours at the beginning or end of a work shift with pay to vote. So rather than move our election day, should we just declare it a holiday across the country and allow those that have to work still a certain amount of time to go in and vote? Or should we move it to possibly the first full weekend of November and allow voting on both Saturday and Sunday so that it doesn’t interfere with work hours at all?
Times have definitely changed since 1845. We have more instant communication these days and it’s usually easier for us to get to our polling places. With the possibility of changing how (or when) we conduct our day(s) of voting, maybe we should make it to where no results are released until all the polls have closed… at least in the lower 48-states. Changing election day (either by moving it or just declaring it a holiday) would only take a mere act of Congress to do so since it’s not outlined in the Constitution. So what do you think? Is our Election Day a date that has lived passed its usefulness? Should it be changed to be a holiday or moved to a weekend… or does early voting negate that necessity? And do you think that it would help increase voter turnout?
InDeclaration – Electoral College