The History Of Election Day

November 1, 2010

Election Day has been set for the first Tuesday in November since 1845 by act of Congress.

Article II, Clause 4 of the Constitution gives Congress the power to determine Election Day:

“The Congress may determine the Time of choosing the Electors, and the Day on which they shall give their Votes; which Day shall be the same throughout the United States.”

There are a number of theories as to why the first Tuesday in November was chosen as Election Day. The United States was an agrarian society in the mid 1800’s, and it was believed that November would be the best month to hold elections, since harvest would have been completed. Tuesday was the best day of the week because it did not interfere with the Sabbath, yet gave farmers enough time to travel to the polling places. Wednesday was traditionally market day, and therefore not a good choice.

There has been some controversy about holding elections on a weekday,since workers may have difficulty getting to the polls. The United Auto Workers(UAW) have negotiated an Election Day holiday for its U.S. auto workers for just this reason.  There have been calls by some activists over the years to declare election day a national holiday.  Read this post from 1998 that appeared on Atlantic Online for a discussion of the issue, and some interesting demographic statistics.

The United States traditionally has low voter turn-out compared to other world democracies. Congress passed the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 in an attempt to increase voter registration. Commonly known as the “Motor Voter Act”, the law required States to allow citizens to register to vote when obtaining driver’s licenses or registering a vehicle, along with other ways to make the registration process easier. It initially increased voter registration, but has had no long-term impact on voter turnout percentages.

The Atlantic article mentions the Australian solution to increasing voter turnout:compulsory voting laws. That of course would never be acceptable in the United States,constitutionally or otherwise.

Another possibility would be to combine Election Day with Veteran’s Day, an already existing holiday.

{ 1 comment }

admin November 1, 2010 at 5:10 pm

I missed the debate,but I found a number of links regarding election day. Where’s the debate,and what’s it about?

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