Why We Vote On Tuesdays

Basically, you can blame 19th century modes of transportation:

It’s Tuesday — exactly two weeks out from Nov. 6, Election Day. Why is voting day for American federal elections always a Tuesday? The answer is a bit obscure and has to do with buggies.

Let me explain.

The story starts all the way back with the Founding Fathers. “The Constitutional Convention just met for a very brief time during the summer of 1787,” Senate Historian Don Ritchie says. “By the time they got finished they were exhausted and they hadn’t made up their minds on a lot of things.”

They were pooped. So they left the question of when federal elections should be held undecided. Without that laid out, states were left to set their own voting dates, which meant several decades of electoral chaos. Ritchie describes it as a “crazy quilt of elections” held at all different times, all over the country.

Finally, in 1845, Congress decided to get things under control. Ritchie says lawmakers reasoned that Monday was out because (this is where the buggies come in) people would have to travel to the polls in their buggies on Sunday, the Sabbath. And in a mostly farming society, Wednesday wouldn’t work because that was often market day.

So, Tuesday was the day, and that seemed to work great for 19th century voters. “In the 1840s, elections were a big to-do — there was a lot of hoopla, there were parades,” Ritchie says. “Whole families would come on wagons from the farms; people would get dressed up for the occasion.”

Though the America of buggies and markets has long since given way to minivans and supermarkets, Tuesday remains the day we vote.

That made sense back then, but I’m not sure it makes sense now.

H/T: Andrew Sullivan

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2012, Quick Takes, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. cd6 says:

    Why we vote on a tuesday now: because if you voted on the weekend or a national holiday, far many more of “the poors” could actually vote, and that could shake up the status quo, and we can’t have that, now can we

  2. Jeremy says:

    Ignoring cd6…

    I actually think it would be a good idea to have votes on Fridays. Make it a national holiday (or a state holiday if it’s an off-year election) and once people get done voting, they go get hammered at a postseason baseball game. I think this is a win-win for everybody.

  3. PJ says:

    @Jeremy:

    I actually think it would be a good idea to have votes on Fridays.

    Fridays are a religious holiday among Pastafarians.

    Pastafarian worshipers of the Flying Spaghetti Monster observe a similar weekly day of rest, marking the day when, founder Bobby Henderson says, the monster took “an extended break from the whole creation gig” and declared, “From here on out, every Friday is a holiday.”

  4. @cd6:

    Why we vote on a tuesday now: because if you voted on the weekend or a national holiday, far many more of “the poors” could actually vote, and that could shake up the status quo, and we can’t have that, now can we

    Except “the poors” I know are far more likely to be off Tuesday/Wednesday, which are the slowest days in the retail business, then on weekends.

  5. MstrB says:

    Wait, did you delete the part where Sullivan added “AND RACIST!”

  6. Doug Deal says:

    Monday seems like a bad day to have elections because it is the first day of the work week, and there is some non trivial setup required for voting machines and such. I am not sure how well things would work if you came in from the weekend and just had people vote on Monday at 7AM.

    Later in the week means less time to finalize counts before the weekend. These are government employees afterall.

  7. Interestingly, almost the entire world votes on either Saturday or Sunday.

  8. The odds are quite good, also, that if we voted on Sunday or Saturday (or on a national holiday) that participation would increase.

  9. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: And that would be desirable because increasing the number of uninformed people voting would yield a positive social result?
    (And no, I don’t accept the possibility that people would work harder at becoming informed–if for no other reason than that our system of running for office seems to lean toward running on baseless innuendo as opposed to reasoned positions on policy matters.)

  10. @Just ‘nutha ig’rant cracker: Upon what do you base the notion that increased turnout only increased the turnout of the uninformed?

  11. The funny thing is on all of these threads about voting and and whatnot, it is often pretty clear that a lot of commenters really don’t want a democracy (or, if one prefers, a “representative republic” or a “constitutional republic” or whatever phrase one prefers) but, rather, really wants an oligarchy of sorts of the “right kind of people” (where said “right kind of people” varies depending on the commenter).

    This quite clear, for example, in any thread on the EC.