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.
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.
* 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?