Why do we still vote on Tuesdays for the general election?

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women hand casting a vote

NEW ORLEANS (WGNO) – Traditions are sometimes hard to break, and the tradition to vote on a Tuesday is no exception.

There are plenty of reasons we should move our elections to the weekends when a larger percentage of the population is off from work, but year after year we continue to move forward with our votes – on Tuesday. So how did this tradition get started? Well, it all starts near the beginning  of our young country’s life.

Early Voting Law

Way back in 1792, federal law dictated that the election of the president and vice president (back then the VP spot went to second place) could happen at any time in a 34-day window before the first Wednesday in December when the Electoral College would convene to elect the commander-in-chief. Even back then, however, advancements in technology posed a few problems.

By the time the early 1800s rolled around, the invention of the telegraph brought about faster communication to the American public. Because of this, the results of the states that voted earlier in the 34 day period could have swayed the voters in the states who voted later and tilted the election. Congress wasn’t too keen on this, and in 1845, Congress set the general election for every state to fall on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November.

Why November and why on Tuesday?

You have to remember that back in the mid-1800s, the economy and the infrastructure of the United States were vastly different that what we see today. November was seen as a compromise of sorts between the primarily farming-based economy of the South and the ever increasing industrial economy of the North. Early November provided Southern farmers the time they needed to harvest their crops but also a good time for Northerners because the winter storm season wouldn’t have set in for most folks.

An Amish buggy with a sticker in support of Republican US presidential nominee Donald Trump drives down a road in rural Lancaster, Pennsylvania. / AFP / Daniel SLIM (Photo credit should read DANIEL SLIM/AFP/Getty Images)

An Amish buggy with a sticker in support of Republican US presidential nominee Donald Trump drives down a road in rural Lancaster, Pennsylvania. / AFP / Daniel SLIM (Photo credit should read DANIEL SLIM/AFP/Getty Images)

As for Tuesday, it all comes down to two important days of the week: Sunday and Wednesday. Sunday is the Biblical Sabbath and a day that the majority of the population rested and attended church. Wednesday was market day, when people would flock to the markets to either buy and/or sell their produce or other goods.

Back then, voting only took place at the county seat, and for a lot of people, that meant a day’s journey by horse and buggy to the polling location and another day’s travel back. So Tuesday was seen as a comfortable day because citizens could vote on Tuesday without affecting either their obligations on Sunday or Wednesday. Tuesday was also picked because it wouldn’t interfere with Saturday, which is observed as the Sabbath by Jewish people.

I’m following you, but why the first Tuesday AFTER the first Monday in November?

Remember the 34-day window states were allowed to proctor their votes before 1845? Well, that arcane law is why we vote on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. If we had chosen to just vote on the first Tuesday of the month, in the event that first Tuesday was November 1, the number of days between that first Tuesday in November and the first Wednesday in December when the Electoral College meets would be 36 days. Two days too long for that 34-day period. By changing it to the first Tuesday after the first Monday, it guaranteed that every election year would have only 29 days between the election and the vote by the Electoral College in December.

There are a few other reasons why the November 1 wasn’t considered. First is the fact that it is a religious holiday: All Saints Day. The second is that at the time, most businesses did their books on the first of the month and that required business and shop owners to be occupied on Election Day. It should be noted that while both reasons seem like valid reasons, they aren’t the reasons noted by Congress when it passed the law in 1845.

The times have changes, why hasn’t the law changed with it?

There are several groups and lawmakers who have lobbied to change the day from Tuesday to Saturday but their efforts have gotten nowhere. Robert Hogan, a political science professor at LSU, explains the current political climate is probably one of the reasons we haven’t seen any progress on the issue.

“I suspect that part of the reason there has not been a move to change the day of the week to a Saturday, for example, is that it would indeed increase turnout as the supporters hope.  Given that many believe higher turnout would have an asymmetric partisan effect (because they think higher turnout benefits Democrats), it seems reasonable to expect many Republicans would oppose such a change,” he said.

 

Current Voting Options

Although voting laws tend to have a partisan edge in the current state of politics, voting accessibility has continued to improve over the decades for the American public. We still have the option to vote in person at our polling location on November 8 this year, but we also have other choices to make it easier.

Justin Timberlake flew home to Tennessee to take advantage of early voting in his hometown of Memphis. He took a selfie of himself, but ballot selfies are prohibited in Tennessee.

Justin Timberlake flew home to Tennessee to take advantage of early voting in his hometown of Memphis. He took a selfie of himself, but ballot selfies are prohibited in Tennessee.

Thirty-four states and the District of Columbia, including Louisiana, allow early voting to help spread out the time voters may be able to vote in person at a polling place. The time to early vote depends on the state. For example, Louisiana’s early voting period is one week while Georgia’s is three weeks.

Six states, including Mississippi, allow voting in advance in person if you have an acceptable reason for not being able to vote at your polling location on Election Day.

And finally, all 50 states and the District of Columbia offer absentee voting. The requirements to absentee vote by mail vary from state to state. 30 states do not require you to have an excuse to vote absentee by mail. 20 states, including Louisiana and Mississippi, require that you fulfill only one of several guidelines in order to vote by absentee ballot.