Why Do We Vote on a Tuesday?

Some Election Day History

By Catherine Boeckmann
October 29, 2019
Voting Ballot Box
andriano.cz/shutterstock

Ever wondered why Americans vote on a Tuesday? The practice goes back to a time when Tuesday was the most convenient day and thought to encourage the highest turnout! Read on … 

Election Day in the United States falls on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November.

Today, most people work on Tuesdays. It’s entrenched in the work week. The polling stations are open during business hours or what we might call “extended banking hours,” with working Americans trying to vote early in the morning after the polls open or in the early evening before the polls close. With commuting time, family demands, and multiple jobs, some Americans have more flexibility than others. So, why do we vote on Tuesdays?

The short answer is 1) farming and 2) weather. When we were a mostly agrarian society, Tuesdays were actually most convenient, though it might not be that way today.

Why Early November?

In the 18th and 19th centuries, most Americans were farmers. Spring was planting season; summer was for tending crops; fall continued the harvest. The busy farming season came to a close by early November.

Also, remember that many of the colonial states were located in what is now the northeastern United States, so voting had to happen before winter weather made travel too difficult. Early November was thought to generate the highest turnout.

Why Vote on a Tuesday?

Many country folks had to travel quite a long way to get to a polling station. Roads were not paved, and polling locations were not as widespread as they are today. 

As many farmers were devout Christians, the weekend was not an option. Further, Wednesday was their important Market Day. Tuesday was a good day because it allowed farmers to go to church on Sunday, travel to vote on Monday and Tuesday, and return home by Wednesday for Market Day. 

In England, elections also took place at the end of harvest season. Read more about Michaelmas and the Quarter Days.

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Image: Town Hall in Dublin, NH, home of The Old Farmer’s Almanac

But Why the First Tuesday AFTER the First Monday?

Congress wanted to avoid November 1, which is a holy day of obligation in some religions. In addition, many businesses didn’t want to deal with voting right after the end of the month, when they were doing their books. 

Initially, the Tuesday date set in 1845 was just for the presidential elections every 4 years, but it was adopted by the House of Representatives in 1875 and then by the Senate in 1914. 

Most Countries Vote on a Weekend

The United States is one of the few democracies* that votes on a weekday. 

For the rest of the world, Saturday or Sunday is by far the most common voting day to enable as many votes as possible.

  • All of Europe and Asia vote on a Sunday. Same with South American, Central America, and Mexico. 
  • Australia and New Zealand vote on a Saturday.

It’s been shown that voter turnout increases on a weekend.

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* constitutional republic founded on democratic principles

Will We Ever Change Tuesday to a Weekend?

Indeed, there have been efforts to move voting from Tuesday to a Saturday over the years.

The argument is not only that the day is most convenient to the most people, encouraging the highest turnout (as was the intention of our forefathers). But this simple switch would also enhance civic culture, giving time for voters to mingle, come together in a communal way, and perhaps eat Election Cake!

So, why don’t we make it easier for the population to vote and increase turnout? We can only guess that the answer comes down to a combination of age-old tradition and politics as usual.

Fortunately, other efforts to make voting easier for all have been successful.

  • All states allow you to vote by absentee ballot (though you need a valid excuse in some).
  • Thirty-seven states and the District of Columbia also have early voting.
  • Some states have declared Election Day a civic holiday. See more about Election Day.

There have been many other ideas over the years, but still, Election Day remains a Tuesday. The practice goes back to our beginnings as a nation.

Tell us what you think! Should we hold voting on a day other than Tuesday? Should we keep it as it currently is?

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Reader Comments

Leave a Comment

Day to Vote

With the amount of Voter Suppression in this Nation, including Saturday as a day of voting would be an improvement.

Voting day

Actually, at least by the 1840's or so (which happens to be my era of expertise), most people went into "town" to shop on Saturdays. Year in, year out. So Saturday would have been a logical day for elections to occur. (There weren't a lot of Jews around, and by then Reform was taking hold, so even they could have voted then had they wanted to.)

VOTING DAY

Here in Colorado we have mail in ballots which can be dropped off at various drop boxes throughout the cities or towns if you don’t want to spend the .62 cents to mail it in. We can also early vote. Mail in is great because you can vote in the comfort of your own home. So In essence you can vote any day of the week. It is especially good for the elderly and disabled. I think all states should go to mail in ballots.

VOTING IN STATE OF LOUISIANA IS ALWAYS ON A SATURDAY

IS THIS BECAUSE OF LOUISIANA BEING UNDER "NAPOLEANIC LAW" ?

Correction

Sorry for the error. The Commandment is outlined in Exodus 20; Verse 8.

Voting Day

Changing the voting day to Saturday would be discriminating against Jews, some Christians and others who keep the Seventh Day Sabbath as commanded in the Bible: Book of Exodus, Chapter 4, Verse 20. Of course, being required to implement Absentee Ballots and early voting would offset that issue.

voting

Since I work retail, I sometimes have a chance at being off on a Tuesday. BUT since I live in a state that allows early voting, I always early vote, so no matter if I am working or not, I can make my voice heard. Maybe it is my age, but voting is one thing I take VERY seriously, and I never miss an election. I will have to be in hospital for that to happen.

Voting on Tuesdays

Your article mentions that devout Christians keep the Sabbath on Sunday so Sunday was out. I just want to mention that if they were really devout Christians, they would keep the Sabbath on Saturday, the 7th day of the week as stated in the Ten Commandments and throughout God ‘s Holy Word.

cake

Tuesday might be a day to vote if you don't work but Saturday is a great day for an election cake to eat!

interesting

Interesting article. Tuesdays aren't just a work day in our modern society. They were bad in industrial society. It's been a long time since agrarian times!

voting on tuesdas

There are many ways to vote now so no need to change the day. Mail in votes - one can go to a mall and do voting while shopping - for heavens sake - let's not play this game.

mall

What do you mean, go to a mall? Seriously, I would like to know. I'm already at work and have two shifts no time off. I could go to a mall on a weekend though.

a game?

Maybe you think this is a game, but I don't. It is not just about sending in a vote. It is about a civic culture. Here in Australia, we have it on a Saturday and we have food stalls (including cake!) and it's a fun time for all. It sounds like that's the way it used to be for Americans when Tuesdays were the best day. I think it's a fair question to ask when you look at the rest of the world. We have much higher turnout and that's the goal. Everyone votes. It's a duty and an honour.

Voting Day

Sounds like the game you play is Voter Suppression.

Keep it on Tuesday, but make it a Federal Holiday

Everyone should get the day off work on election day - to vote.

Election Day

But knowing our fellow citizens, they would just take the day off and not bother with voting.

time off to vote

You stated that everyone should get the day off to vote. So that includes doctors, nurses, dentists, police 9111 operators, convience store clerks, grocery store employees, air traffic controllers and hundreds of others that make this society work. You'd be ok with waitng for tomorrow to use any of these services?

Voting

Simple solution; Half the work force gets the morning off & the other half gets the afternoon off. Worked for my crew on holidays & every one was happy.

Day to Vote

So how does keeping Vote Day on Tuesday address the issues and people you bring up?