We Vote On Tuesdays Because We All Used To Be Farmers

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Every election cycle, we hold the general election on a Tuesday. Always, without exception. But why? It's a tradition that was began in 1845, when a federal law was passed forevermore assigning election day to the Tuesday following the first Monday in November.

Before the law was passed, states could hold their elections any time within 34 days before the first Wednesday in December. That system presented a number of anti-democratic loopholes that were exploited. The biggest one was that early voting results could significantly impact voting patterns in states that held their vote later. Congress moved to standardize the voting day, and we've been operating on the same system ever since.

Tuesday seems like an odd day to pick, though. The justification for holding elections on Tuesdays has to do with our history as a farming country. In the 19th Century, America was still primarily an agrarian population. Most people worked on farms. And it would often take them a lot of travel to reach their polling place. Most people needed at least a day to travel.

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Since Sunday church was still a borderline compulsory institution of American life, the weekend was a very inconvenient time of the week to hold an election. Wednesdays also presented a scheduling obstacle, since farmers took their produce to market on Wednesdays. This is why Tuesday was selected. It gave farmers enough leeway to both attend church and the market.

Our agrarian roots also explain why elections are held in November. If elections were held in early summer or spring, it could interfere with critical planting times. And early fall or late summer could disrupt the harvest. November, which falls between the end of the harvest and the onset of inclement winter weather, was the logical best choice.

This puts modern voting turnout in perspective. And gives you a sense of how much more politically engaged the voting public (or at least the fragment of the population who were actually enfranchised) was than today.

If the upcoming election day is going to interfere with your trip to the market to sell your tomatoes, then next time, you might want to register to vote by absentee ballot. If you're interested in voting, filling out a ballot at home and then dropping it in the mailbox is certainly easier than taking a horse and buggy ride in the snow. And you get to skip the lines, too.

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Matt

Matt lives in Southern California. He is interested in politics, history, literature and the natural world.