Election Day History, Trivia, and Fascinating Facts

How much do—and don't—you know about Election Day?

November 1, 2020
When is Election Day?

In 2020, U.S. Election Day falls on Tuesday, November 3. How much do—and don’t—you know? Here is a short history of Election Day and the right to vote. Plus, we have some trivia, fascinating facts, and common questions & answers to quiz yourself as well as your family and friends.

To-day, alike are great and small,
The nameless and the known;
My palace is the people’s hall,
The ballot-box, my throne!

–John Greenleaf Whittier, American poet (1807–92)

When Is U.S. Election Day 2020?

Election Day is always held on the first Tuesday following the first Monday in November.

In 2020, Election Day is Tuesday, November 3.

On this day, citizens cast ballots to select public officials—from local to national government.

  • Presidential elections are held every four years, in years divisible by four.
  • Elections to the United States House of Representatives and the United States Senate are held every two years.
  • Local officials can be voted into office any year that is designated by the state.
Year Election Day
2020 Tuesday, November 3
2021 Tuesday, November 2
2022 Tuesday, November 8
2023 Tuesday, November 7

Note: All states allow you to vote absentee (“vote by mail”), although some states require you to provide a reason, such as that you’ll be out of town or you’re disabled. In 2020, given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, many states have loosened restrictions on absentee voting. Check your state’s laws here. The majority of states also offer early voting in person prior to Election Day. 

2020 Voting Resources

Voting is a fundamental part of the democratic process and must be accessible to all! Here are resources for Americans looking to vote:

The Brief History of Election Day

On January 7, 1789, the electors were chosen for the first U.S. presidential election. (George Washington was elected president on February 4.)

By an act of Congress on January 23, 1845, the first Tuesday following the first Monday in November was designated Election Day for future presidential elections. Back then, we were more of an agricultural society and November was considered a good time for elections because the busy harvest season was coming to a close. Many country folks had to travel quite a long way to get to a polling station, so it made sense to hold elections on a Tuesday. This avoided religious holidays as well. 

→ Read more about Why We Vote on a Tuesday.

Before 1845, the states could hold presidential elections within a 34-day period and then send their electors to the Electoral College. However, this became problematic as communications and transportation evolved because states that voted earlier could influence states that voted later (not unlike earlier time zones versus later time zones today).

The first Election Day took place on November 7, 1848. Whig Party candidate Zachary Taylor won out over Democrat Lewis Cass and Free-Soil candidate (and former president) Martin Van Buren. Taylor’s running mate was Millard Fillmore, who became the nation’s 13th president on July 10, 1850, upon Taylor’s untimely death.

Read more about why elections are traditionally held in the fall in our article about the ancient Quarter-Days.

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Election Day Cake!

Did you know that there is a such thing as an Election Day Cake? Often yeasted fruit cakes, Election Day cakes started in the 1600s and were especially popular around the time of American independence.

Try making it this year with our Election Day Cake recipe

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Election Day Questions and Answers

Here are some Almanac reader questions—with answers from your editors!

Question: Is Election Day a federal holiday?
Answer: No, it is not. However, Election Day has been declared a civic holiday by many states including Delaware, Hawaii, Kentucky, Louisiana, Montana, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, West Virginia, and the territory of Puerto Rico. It is usually a day that the state legislature declares as a non-working day (when government offices and the court systems are closed).

Question: When were women given the right to vote in the United States?
Answer:  Women were given the right to vote on August 26, 1920, when the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified. Formerly known as Woman Suffrage Day, August 26 is now recognized as “Women’s Equality Day.” Ratification came in Tennessee, where suffragist (Anitia) Lili Pollitzer, age 25, persuaded Tennessee state legislator Harry T. Burn, age 24, to cast the deciding vote. “I know that a mother’s advice is always safest for a boy to follow,” he said, “and my mother wanted me to vote for ratification.” The country’s 26 million voting-age women were enfranchised by this change in the Constitution. Longtime suffragist Carrie Chapman Catt summed up her experiences in the battle this way: “Never in the history of politics has there been such a nefarious lobby as labored to block the ratification.” Upon ratification, Catt founded the League of Women Voters, an organization now dedicated to providing impartial, in-depth information about candidates, platforms, and ballot issues.

Question: Which U.S. president has received the greatest number of electoral votes?
Answer: Ronald Reagan, in the 1984 election, won a whopping 525 out of 538 available electoral votes.

Question: Which U.S. president has received the greatest number of popular votes?
Answer: That distinction goes to Barack Obama, who received 69.5 million votes in the 2008 election.

Question: Can you explain the electoral college?
Answer: The U.S. Constitution decrees that a “body of electors” will choose the president and vice president of the country. These electors are appointed by each state, through varying methods depending upon the state, as decided by each state’s legislature. The number of electoral votes allotted to each state depends on the number of Senators and Representatives to which each state is entitled; Congress has 100 Senators and 435 Representatives. Each state is allotted 1 electoral vote for each Senator (for a total of 2) and 1 electoral vote for each Representative. The number of Representatives each state has is based on its population. The District of Columbia is allotted 3 electoral votes. This yields a total of 538 electoral votes. Electors vote in their respective states in December. Most vote according to popular vote or to their pledge to their party (although in some states, they are not required to do so). In 48 states, the presidential candidate who receives a majority of the vote takes all of the state’s electoral votes. However, in Nebraska and Maine, the setup is different, and electoral votes can be split between candidates. Congress counts the electoral votes, now merely a formality, on January 6. The presidential candidate who receives a majority (270) of the 538 Electoral College votes wins the election.

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Question: What were the symbols for the Republicans and Democrats before they were an elephant and a donkey?
Answer: Although Thomas Nast, a caricaturist and illustrator for Harper’s Weekly, created and made famous our current symbols for the parties—the Democratic donkey in 1870 and the Republican elephant in 1874—there was an earlier symbol for Democrats. During the election of 1840, between the Democrats and the Whigs (the Republican party as we know it didn’t exist until 1854), the Whigs derided a Democratic candidate for Congress in Indiana, Joseph Chapman, with the slogan “Crow, Chapman, Crow!” However, Chapman crowed so successfully that he won the seat (though the Whigs were triumphant elsewhere). In Chapman’s honor, the Democrats adopted the rooster as their symbol.

Question: Who is credited with saying, “Americans will go across an ocean to fight a war, but not across the street to vote”?
Answer: The full quote is, “A citizen of America will cross the ocean to fight for democracy, but won’t cross the street to vote in a national election.” It is credited to William E. (‘Bill’) Vaughan, a 20th-century author and columnist.

The Right to Vote

  • February, 1870: The U.S. Congress passes and the states ratify the Fifteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution granting African-American men the right to vote.
  • 1890: Wyoming was the first state to grant women the right to vote, followed by Colorado in 1893. 
  • October 23, 1915: 25,000 women marched in NYC demanding the right to vote.
  • August, 1920: The Nineteenth Amendment was adopted, granting women from every state the right to vote. It was nicknamed the “Anthony” amendment in recognition of the lobbying efforts of suffragette Susan B. Anthony. The amendment was adopted just in time for the 1920 presidential election. See a full timeline of women’s suffrage.
  • March 29, 1961: Ratification of the 23rd amendment to the Constitution gave residents of Washington, D.C., the right to vote in presidential elections.
  • August, 1965: President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act to outlaw states’ discriminatory voting practices, especially with African Americans in the South.
  • July 1971: The 26th Amendment reduced the voting age in the United States from 21 to 18 years of age. The first 18-year-olds voted in the 1972 elections.
  • March, 1993: The “motor-voter” bill was signed by President Bill Clinton, allowing citizens to register to vote when applying for a driver’s license and ease voter registration.

Election Day Amusement

Here is an election-day palindrome for your amusement: 

Rise to vote, sir.

Let Us Know

Do you think Election Day should be a holiday? Should it be kept on a Tuesday, or maybe moved to a weekend? Let us know what you think in the comments below!

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Reader Comments

Leave a Comment

Election too long

I agree with Eric and Janice below. In Canada, you run for 6 weeks. I know England is also a contained period of time. I believe the answer is money. I think it is 6 or 7 weeks there. I could be wrong but I believe the UK campaign finance now limits much you can spend as well and everyone gets the same amount. If you allow money to go to "sky is the limit" then only the wealthy or people with wealthy backers can win. And it will drag on forever. If we had some campaign finance rules that were similar, our politicians wouldn't be running ALL the time and get down to the peoples' business.

Weekend Elections

If elections were held on Saturdays, 7th Day Adventists and many Jewish voters would be disenfranchised. If held on Sundays, many Christians would be disenfranchised. Keep it during the week.

Election "season" is TOO LONG

Eric Hudson, I agree with you, wholeheartedly! We should limit the amount of time spent for campaigning! It is beginning to seem like the whole period, from the end of one election to the "beginning" of the next is non-existent. I like the idea of just 6 weeks.

Right to Vote

I'd like to add to the list of Right to Vote milestones the abolition of property qualifications for voting, the last in 1856, and the 24th Amendment, abolishing the poll tax, passed in 1964.

The USA Election

You all down there may be able to explain it better to me, but why in hecks name, do you guys have to run election campaigns for so bloody long!? Here in Canada, I believe 6 weeks is the longest any campaign goes for. The election date is announced, 6 weeks later the signs are gone and we are back to running a country. Why do you need it for so long? Everything has to run to a degree on-hold as the government is out campaigning!

Why don't people vote?

I doubt that it has anything to do with when the polls are open. I think most of us are just disgusted by our PPP (Poisonous Polarized Politics) or have gotten resigned to the idea that politicians, especially on the Federal level, can't really solve our problems. (Both are true of me!)

I honestly don't see why

I honestly don't see why Election Day should be a Federal holiday. In my area, the polls are open for 12 solid hours, 8A-8P. Most people only work eight. How can't they find half an hour to drop by the polling place? In any case, if all states would allow mail-in votes without excuse, it wouldn't matter.

Electoral College

Without the Electoral College, The West Coast and northern East Coast states would select the President. The interior states would be voiceless. Look at the map that shows hw counties went re or blue, and my point will be made.

Saturday

The reasons for election day being on Tuesday are no longer relevant. Election day should be moved to Saturday.

American Indian Voting Rights

American Indians were granted American citizenship in 1924. Utah was the last state to grant American Indian the right to vote in 1962. Even today - November 3, 2020 - many Native Americans will not be allowed to vote because they don’t have a physical address on Reservations; only a post office pox number.

Voting day

First Saturday after of November. Holiday

Reply to Eric--electoral college

According to the US Census, most people in the US live in urban areas, so any state with winner-take-all electoral votes ( most states ) is already being dominated by its urban areas, with little or no voice for rural voters. Contrary to the argument below, rural voters would be much better off without the Electoral College, or with a split vote for electors. Considered state-by-state, nearly every state is more urban than rural. To the extent that the Electoral College does not represent the will of the majority of voters, it serves to undermine the democratic process, and faith in democracy as a way of life. There isn't any more reason a few rural voters should outweigh many urban voters, than there was for the few urban voters to outweigh the many rural, as the US was once mostly rural. One person, one vote.

Voting

In Oregon we only have mail in voting. It can't be any easier than that. Perhaps all states should go to mail in voting? I don't see any reason to change the day or make it a holiday.

Voting

I have already submitted to my Senator that we make Election Day a national holiday. This is what I remember growing up with in Ohio at that time. It eliminates a lot of fuss & worry especially for times like this (Covid Days) by allowing time for anyone to vote. No need to worry about getting to work or a store or whatever. I remember my parents packing all 5 kids into the car & we waited together for them to vote & then we drove to the Grandparents house or a lake or whatever to enjoy the day together. This creates "Less" need (but does not eliminate) for Absentee & mail-in voting.

Electoral College: Great thing the Founding Fathers thought of. Without it the rural folks & those in smaller towns & states would have no voice as only the people in large cities & states would rule this country by dominating the voting process.

Ranked voting: Should be illegal. It allows for one party to dominate & be the ONLY party represented in the final vote for officials.

Automatic Registration: NO. Only those people who can prove that they are American citizens should vote in American elections. States have proven that if the election process for registration is left up to them, then they are willing to allow anyone to get registered automatically by simply applying for a driver's license which they should not be able to get either without proving they are a Legal American Citizen.

VOTING

Everything is made so easy here in the US - far too many Americans don't appreciate what a precious freedom our Revolutionary ancestors won for us. Such a slap in the face of those brave Patriots who gave blood, sweat, tears, their very lives. They sacrificed all because they wanted to live free as a people and have a say in who represented them. How many people living in countries around the world ruled by dictators or warlords would love to have as encompassing, as simple, as not dangerous a process, as that which we all can participate in on Voting Day.

Democracy can work

1) 1 person = 1 vote. Eliminate the electoral college.
2) Ranked-choice voting for candidates
3) Encourage absentee and early voting
4) Make voter registration automatic (opt out instead of opt in)
5) Make information about all issues and candidates easily accessible online and in print (proposed law text, endorsements, candidate statements, links to discussions, etc).
6) Secure voting machines/tally systems from manipulation/hacking
7) Include civics in gradeschool education!
8) Encourage depth discussion of issues in the media.
9) Stop polling so much! Headlining poll results on candidates leading up to elections introduces bias and distracts from the issues. We need to move away from that.

Time to vote

The actual voting on the Tuesday following the first Monday in November should remain as established. This single day really represents the end of voting as Ohio like many states provides multiple ways (absentee, mail and early voting) and days (30) to cast a vote. There should be no excuse for failure to vote yet, the voter turnout remain disappointing low.

The electoral college should remain in order to provide equal voices for states with lower populations creates a level playing field participation which forces presidential candidates to campaign and expound platforms that appeal to to all across the country not just in high population areas.

Electoral College

Ray, how does the college provide equal voices for states with lower populations since the number of electors is so significantly less for those states than for states like Ohio and other much more populous states. In addition, when you live in a "winner takes all" state, as most states are, only the voters who voted for the candidate that carried the state are the ones whose vote counts. If a candidate carries such a state with 51% of the vote then 49% of the voters have, essentially, been disenfranchised. To me, that's hardly equal and fair representation.

Electoral College

The single most important change to the system of voting in the United States of America would be to eliminate the Electoral College and go with the actual count of the voters in the country. The college was fine during the early days of the republic but has outlived its usefulness. As was so evident in the 2016 election (which I chose not to vote for president in because I didn't deem either candidate worthy of the office), the person elected was not the person that the majority of the voting public thought should be president. The system is such that by intense campaigning in a few states with a significant number of electors the election can be "gamed" to produce an outcome that is not always in tune with the actual will of the electorate.

Reply to ELECTORAL COLLEGE

The wisdom of our founding fathers is no more evident than in the concept of the Electoral college. and if your choice to not vote due to your view that neither candidate was worthy of the office, then stay at home again in 2020. In my opinion, As far as election law changes, I would LOVE to see a Constitutional amendment implementing TERM LIMITS for Congress, with Senators and members of the House of Representatives limited to no more than TWO terms. This would coincide with the 22nd amendment which limits the President to TWO terms. Thank the Lord for the wisdom and forethought of our founding fathers, that they saw that the electoral college would be a true representation of the ENTIRE United States, and not just the major cities and States with huge populations.

Electoral College

AMEN

Election Day

Election Day should be a National Holiday to increase the chances of people having time to vote on that day. Also all states should allow early voting to try to ensure that no one misses their chance to vote. Voting should be an inviolate right and trying to suppress anyone's vote should be treated as a serious crime.

Electoral college

I do agree with all the advances that the Electoral college should be replaced by a true popular vote. I also agree on 2 year term limits for the house and senate. So how can we get these done?

comment

Yahoo has a great election day page. So does Google. Go Vote!

Why is Election Day Not a Federal Holiday?

If Democracy is more important than Business, why not declare it a Federal Holiday so everyone will get the day off work to vote?

Election Day

Election Day should be a holiday - less stress!

Absentee ballots

In my state asking for absentee ballots when you don't meet the requirements to submit an absentee ballot is election fraud.
There is a case in the press where a committee had people fill out an absentee ballot, so it would be easier for the citizens, but the committee people were there watching the people fill them out. Illegal and applying a little pressure on who to vote for.

My dear old trusted friends

My dear old trusted friends at Old Farmer's Almanac, I just want to say THANK YOU, that in this election year, especially, I am so hopeful for good to prevail, that you continue to choose to acknowledge Jesus by printing in every issue "calculated on a new and improved plan for the year of our Lord." You will never know what those words mean to me. God bless you.

I did not know there was an

I did not know there was an election cake! A fitting theme for this years' election would be to drop a big old deuce in the batter.

Thank you!

Just a thank you for posting the election days for the next 2 yrs as well as this yr. We signed up for absentee ballots to be sent to our home for ALL ELECTIONS. Did we receive one for the MI PRIMARY today? NO!!! So we have to make the trip anyway. Not great service from our city officials.

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