Since 1845, federal elections in the United States have always fallen on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November. This has led many to wonder what makes Tuesday so special? Why are US elections held on Tuesdays, and not another day of the week?
To better understand why US elections are held on Tuesdays, we have to go way back to the early days of America. During the summer of 1787, the Founding Fathers met in Philadelphia to draft what would become the US Constitution. Delegates from each state convened to debate and decide various elements of the document. It was a tiring process, and by the end of it, much was still left to be decided. Among those issues left unaddressed was the question of when to hold federal elections.
According to the Tenth Amendment, which came into force when the Bill of Rights was ratified in 1791, the federal government possesses only those powers delegated to it by the Constitution. All remaining powers are reserved for the states or the people. Because the Constitution made no reference to election dates, states were left to set their own voting standards. This resulted in elections taking place at many different times, all over the country.
Back then, this chaotic voting process wasn’t much of an issue. News traveled slow in those days. Most citizens didn’t find out who was elected President until well after the fact. So the various voting days didn’t really matter. However, once inventions like the railroad and telegraph came into play, Congress decided that elections needed to be brought under greater control.
Why Are US Elections Held on Tuesdays?
In 1845, Congress met to decide on a standard date for federal elections. At the time, America was still very much a farming society.
With polling stations often far away from the countryside where many residents lived and worked, lawmakers decided to allow for a day of travel before elections (remember, in those days people traveled by horse and buggy). This ruled out elections on Mondays, because people would have to travel on the Sunday Sabbath, typically a day of rest or when people would go to church. Wednesday was typically market day for farmers, leaving Tuesday as a logical choice for Election Day.
And so, Congress set Election Day as the Tuesday after the first Monday in November. And that tradition has continued to this day.
Why Are US Elections Held in November?
You might have noticed that federal elections are also always held in November. This has its roots in America’s agrarian past as well.
November was selected as the month for Election Day because it worked the best for farmers. Spring and early summer was typically the time when fields were prepared and new crops were planted. Late summer and early fall was when these crops were harvested. Winter was out of the question because many thought potentially harsh weather could disrupt travel.
With late fall presenting itself as the logical choice, lawmakers ultimtately settled upon November as election month.
Will Election Day Ever Change?
A lot has changed since 1845. Today, some feel that it is time to move Election Day to another day of the week. They would argue that Tuesday is a bit impractical, and that voting should be made easier for people. Some have gone so far as to blame Tuesdays for America’s typically low voter turnout. Most people have to work on Tuesdays, so for those that have to physically vote at polling stations, it can certainly be a hassle to try and find time to cast that ballot.
In many ways, voting is actually easier today than it was in the past. Many states have absentee and early voting. But not all do, and proponents of changing the voting date would assert that the weekend would be a much easier time for people to get to the polls.
Of course, weekend voting presents its own challenges, from keeping equipment safe overnight to recruiting poll workers to work on the weekend. Furthermore, there is no real evidence to support that moving Election Day would increase voter turnout.
Thus far, efforts to change Election Day have not been able to gain much traction. It seems that most Americans have come to accept voting on Tuesdays. It’s even a bit of a tradition to some. So for now, it appears Tuesday will remain the day that people vote.
Mark Heald is an Associate Product Manager and Sporcle Admin. He enjoys spending time with his family, traveling, and bemoaning the fact the Sonics left Seattle.