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A short history of election day in the U.S.

By September 15, 2020September 16th, 2023No Comments

By Julie Dinger
Libraries Civic Engagement Committee

Why the United States presidential election takes place in November

Election 2020To answer this question, you have to imagine the population of 19th century America. Most Americans were farmers, devoutly Christian, and needed travel time, as roads weren’t paved, and polling locations were scarce. A November election was convenient because the harvest was completed but the worst winter weather hadn’t arrived to make transportation difficult, and the election results would roughly line up with the new year.

By 1792, federal law permitted each state to choose Presidential electors any time within a 34-day period before the first Wednesday in December. Since 1845, to streamline the voting process and to avoid influencing voters by early election returns, Congress has set election day for the entire country as “the Tuesday next after the first Monday in the month of November” or “the first Tuesday after November 1.” The earliest possible date is November 2, and the latest possible date is November 8.

Why the United States presidential election takes place on a Tuesday

Many American citizens who farmed and attended church would find it most convenient to travel to a polling place on Monday and Tuesday, and return to their communities in time for “market day” on Wednesday.

Congress chose the first Tuesday after the first Monday to avoid having election day fall on 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, or taking care of their financial records.

Employee voting rights

Many workplaces allow their employees to take time to vote during the work day, without using vacation or paid time off. The laws determining this are decided by the individual states.

When other countries vote

The United States is one of the few democracies that votes on a weekday. For the rest of the world, Saturday or Sunday is the most common voting day to enable as many votes as possible.

Mark Engebretson

Author Mark Engebretson

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