Why we vote on a Tuesday in November

How many of you know when Election Day is in America?  A Tuesday in November right?  Yep, but which Tuesday and why that Tuesday?  Federal Election Day is always on the first Tuesday following a Monday in November every other year.  The every year part is specified in the Constitution by the requirement that one third of Representatives stand for election every two years, and the President every four years.  But the Constitution says nothing about the day we have to vote.

It does say that the Electoral College must meet on the first Wednesday in December.  Before 1845 states were allowed to open polling stations in the 34 days before this Wednesday.  Then in 1845, Congress in all of its wisdom, decided to set one day in which poling could take place and that was on the first Tuesday following a Monday in November.  Well then why November, and why the first Tuesday following a Monday?

In the 1800s farming was the prevailing occupation of Americans and early November was the first month farmers could leave their crops without neglecting the chores that had to be done in order to get a harvest in, and allow the votes casted to be tallied before the Electoral College met.  Okay, that explains why November was chosen, but why on a Wednesday, and why it had to follow a Monday?

In the 1800 there were some trains but most people had to use horses or walked if they wanted to go any distance.  Polling station could be as much as a day away so time had to be allowed for voters to get to where they had to vote.  Why not Monday?  Well most folks in those days would spend a good part of every Sunday in Church, and there was no way that they would give up church for voting.  So a Tuesday it had to be, but why the one following a Monday instead of just the first Tuesday in November?

I sure most of you do not know it but November 1st is “All Souls Day”, most are much more familiar with Halloween.  Now here I will go on a tangent, Halloween or All Hallows’ Eve Christian feast of All Hallows or All Souls.  The Jew’s day does not start with sunrise, rather with sunset.  So the eve of something is not before it but the start of it, eve is short for evening.  Christmas Eve is not the night before Christmas but the start of Christmas Day.  Christian in those days was very unlikely to travel on the day of the feast of All Hallows.

So it was to avoid this conflict that the first Tuesday following a Monday in November was settled on.  You might say that it one of the first ‘get out the vote’ campaign. There are a number of people who have been asking “Why Tuesday?” and pushing to move voting from Tuesdays to weekends for years.  They believe that this move would increase voter participation.  However, critics of this point out that with the expansion of early voting and the ease of obtaining an absentee ballot make this unnecessary.

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