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Why are US Elections Always Held on Tuesdays?

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  • Written By: Stacy Ruble
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  • Last Modified Date: 04 December 2016
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US elections have not always been held on Tuesdays. Due to rampant corruption, Congress needed to pick a standard date for presidential and vice presidential elections to occur uniformly throughout the country. Tuesday was chosen as that day in 1845 due to the farming lifestyle and traveling issues that faced people in those times.

From 1792 through 1844, Congress allowed states to have their US elections for president and vice president to occur any day between the first Wednesday of December and 34 days prior to that day. The first Wednesday in December was the day when the Electoral College met and all the votes needed to be cast and counted prior to then. During those years, US elections were held on various days, depending on the state.

Having elections on different days in different states led to corruption. Politicians and political parties would send people state-to-state to vote, which resulted in people voting numerous times. This was done to influence tight elections as the December deadline loomed. Holding US elections on different days also meant that the states which had their elections last were often influenced by the results of the earlier states.

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In 1845 Congress declared that the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November as US election days for the office of President and Vice President. They had opted for early November because that still allowed enough time for vote counting before the Electoral College met in December. November was after the harvest that kept most farmers too busy earlier in the year. Early November also meant less likelihood of snow causing travel burdens.

Tuesday was chosen due to the extensive travel, at least one day, that faced many farming Americans trying to get to the county seat to vote. Congress could not choose the days surrounding Sundays for US elections since people were at church honoring the Sabbath and could not be traveling those days. This meant Saturday, Sunday and Monday were all not options.

In many towns, Wednesdays were market days so voters needed to be back at their home towns on those days so they could purchase and sell goods. Therefore Wednesdays and Thursdays would not work. Tuesdays were an option because a voter could travel on Monday, vote first thing on Tuesday and be back for market Wednesdays. In 1872 Congress determined that all congressional elections occur on that same Tuesday and this has not changed the US election day since then.

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everetra
Post 10

@nony - Times have changed, but there are still many people who don’t vote. Ironically, we suffer fewer communication problems today than they did in the 1800s, yet it’s the nature of our communications that poses a challenge to total turnout on election day, in my opinion.

We have these dreaded things called “exit polls” where pollsters like to announce who people voted for, as they are exiting the polling facilities.

These polls have caused some networks (and pollsters) to erroneously call the winners of certain elections, with the effect of sending other voters back home before they’ve had a chance to vote. After all, if you know who won already, why vote?

Exit polling should be banished in my opinion. It serves no constructive purpose, other than making pollsters look good when they call a prediction correctly.

nony
Post 9

When all is said and done, I still think that Tuesday is the best day of the week to hold elections, even though times have changed and the original rationale is no longer relevant.

So I put forth my own rationale. On Monday, everyone is barely awake, just straggling into work. Nobody is thinking clearly on Monday – scratch that off the list. Wednesday is “hump” day, so scratch that day off.

Thursday is hurtling towards the weekend when everyone is planning the fun stuff they plan to do, so that day won’t work. And of course, people are going to be partying on Fridays, not going to elections. Weekends are for recreation and Sabbath, so Saturday and Sunday won’t work.

So over a hundred years later, I still say Tuesday is the best day to have elections.

bagley79
Post 8

@golf07 - I do think that in recent years there has been more of a push to encourage people to vote. I don't know how much of a difference it makes, but there is more attention being brought to it.

Many candidates are focusing on particular groups that don't have a strong voting record in the past, such as college students.

In my area, they also talk about getting an absentee ballot if you are going to be out of town, or don't know what the weather is going to be like. This usually targets the senior citizen group.

I cannot imagine what kind of chaos there would be if the election day was different depending on what

part of the country you lived in.

It seems like it takes a long time now the way it is to come up with the final results. If the days were different, this would really drag out the whole process.

I can also see how it could make a difference on who people voted for, or if they even voted at all.

If the particular candidate they wanted to vote for was so far ahead or behind, they might feel it wasn't even worth the effort and not vote at all.

golf07
Post 7

I think it would be interesting to know what percentage of people voted back in 1845 when this day was chosen as the election day.

Every year when I watch the US Presidential election results, it occurs to me that there is a large percentage of people who never get out and vote.

It almost seems like the easier it is for us to vote, the less interest there is in making the effort to do it.

Many of the people back during this time period really had to make some sacrifices in order to get to where they needed to be so they could cast their vote.

I know many people who live only a

few blocks from a voting place, and never bother to vote. This is a right that I have always taken seriously.

I wonder what would happen if a larger percentage of the population really did take the few extra minutes it takes to get out on election day and vote for their candidate of choice.

SarahSon
Post 6

I find it very interesting how Tuesday became the official United States election day.

Even though our lifestyles have dramatically changed, it seems like the possible ways of corruption in the voting system has grown.

I recently attended a meeting on what to expect at the caucus. At this meeting, I learned how some people used absentee ballots to get illegal votes for a particular candidate.

I know our state is working hard to cut down on the amount of fraud in our voting system, but it seems like the harder they work, there is someone else that thinks of another way to get around the system.

cupcake15
Post 5

@Latte31 - The problem with that approach is that the party out of office might nominate someone that they later regret because the process would done so quickly that there was not enough time to vet the candidates.

I also think that candidates should be able to withstand a certain amount of scrutiny because it will serve them well later on in the process. The primary process lets people see who could take the pressure and who can’t.

You also learn the weaknesses of all of the candidates and this added information helps the party make the best decision. I don’t think that consolidating the primary elections to one Election Day is a good idea.

latte31
Post 4

@Burcidi - You know I never thought about the potential corruption that would ensue if states held different election dates.

It is possible that people could cross state lines and vote in another state. I could not imagine the chaos if we allowed the states to pick their own election day.

I think that we have enough problems with the national day as it is. I wonder if the same thing could be done with the primary elections for the presidential candidates.

Why aren’t those standardized as well to be on the same day? Why do we need an Iowa Caucus or a New Hampshire primary? I know that the primaries are more fun for the media, but

the process could be simplified if all of the primaries were held the same day.

This way the political party that is not in office would already know who the nominee would be right away and everyone could rally around this nominee and help them raise more money.

ysmina
Post 3

If the reason for Tuesday elections are based on the needs of Americans in the 1800s, why are we still holding the United States Presidential Elections on Tuesdays?

We all accept that the times and circumstances are different now so it doesn't make sense to keep election day on Tuesdays. Many people don't vote because they can't or don't want to leave work. We're not a nation of farmers who buy and sell produce every Wednesday anymore. We're a nation where almost everyone owns a vehicle or has access to public transportation. Moreover, we're highly urbanized, work Monday through Friday and voting locations are down the street for most of us.

So why not have elections on Friday and give that day off for people? Or have it on Saturday when most people don't work?

burcidi
Post 2

@turkay1-- Actually, in the early 1800s, it was not a problem for states to have elections on different days. Back then, railroads weren't really set up yet and there wasn't much of a way to communicate with other states about what the results of the elections were. So states could hold elections on different days without corruption.

But after a couple of decades, the US railroad system picked up and the telegraph was available which made it much easier for election results to be known by other states. It was around this time that people started to travel across states to vote multiple times and influence US election results.

It became necessary to select one single day for elections for the entire country at this point.

candyquilt
Post 1

I always thought that there was a special reason or symbolism for having elections on Tuesdays. It turns out that it was just out of need and because the other days of the week didn't work for people.

But I think that it has become a tradition now. We don't face the same kind of difficulties with travel anymore and we can do shopping any day of the week. So even though we could change the day now if we wanted to, we don't.

I'm glad that the right to determine the day of elections was taken away from the states though. If that right was given today, there would again be corruption and confusion. Plus, US Presidential Elections is a national event, so there is nothing more natural than having it all on the same day for the whole country.

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