So – why does the US hold its elections on a Tuesday in November?

I am just preparing for tonight’s Rostrum meeting and decided to mention that pesky United States election thing.

I found this discussion on Election, which as an avid follower of US politics I found interesting – and intriguing.  As it is currently Tuesday in the United States (that whole time zone thing means it’s actually Wednesday, but there you go), I was curious to know how election days came about.  According to Wikipedia, there are prosaic reasons as to why election days are held on a Tuesday in November.

Originally, states were to hold their presidential election “any day in the 34 days prior to the first Wednesday of December”. This was chosen as the magic date between harvest time and the crippling snow storms of the North Eastern States.

However, states holding their election later held an advantage: they knew what earlier results were and could strongly influence the results (and thus get a whole load of pork). So Congress in 1845 decided election day should be uniformly the 1st Tuesday of November in years evenly divisible by four.

Except that election day is not held then – because that approach occasionally violated the 34 day rule, so it was changed to… any guesses? Yes, the Tuesday after the first Monday of November is the rule.

So why is it a Tuesday?  It’s a Tuesday because back in 1845 it generally took a full day by horse and cart to travel to a voting station, then allow a day to vote, and then a day to travel back.  So the Biblical Sabbath (i.e. Sunday) would be disrupted if the election were held earlier, so this meant that election day had to be a Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday or Friday.

However, most towns held their Market Day on Wednesdays.  So the trip could allow you to vote AND go to market.  And so to avoid harvest and snow storms, it’s November, and to avoid Sunday and Wednesday, election day is held on a Tuesday.  

From the ‘never knew that’ file.

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