If it’s the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November, that can only mean one thing: it’s time to vote! The day we head to the polls to cast our votes for the candidates of our choice is known as Election Day. But why Tuesday?
Why not Monday? Or Saturday? Or the Thursday after the second Wednesday of April? Is there any reason why we vote on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November? To find out, we need to take a trip back in time.
Set your time machine to 1845. That’s a long time ago. Back then, some of the most populous states of today — California, Texas and Florida — weren’t even states yet. The U.S. Civil War was still almost 20 years away, too.
At that time, Congress needed to settle on a day for the country to vote in presidential and congressional elections. Back then, most Americans were farmers. The large cities of today were still many years away.
Farmers were busiest during the spring and summer months. By November, however, most crops had been harvested. Also, the weather was still usually nice enough in November to allow farmers to travel to town to vote. Since today’s modern highways didn’t exist back then, the winter months could make travel difficult for most people.
Given these very practical considerations, Congress thought November would be the best month for people to vote. But why Tuesday? Was there a practical reason for that, too?
As a matter of fact, there was! Keeping in mind travel issues, Congress realized that many people lived at least an overnight trip away from the cities where people could vote. Remember: people often traveled back then on horseback or by buggy.
To allow people to go to church on Sunday, Congress figured holding elections on Tuesdays would allow people to travel on Monday, vote on Tuesday and return home by Wednesday. The decision was as simple as that!
Congress further designated Election Day as the first Tuesday after the first Monday of November. Why? They wanted to make sure that voting never took place on November 1, since November 1 is a Holy Day of Obligation (All Saints Day) in the Roman Catholic Church.
So we’ve voted on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November since Congress’ decision in 1845. Of course, most people are not farmers today. It’s also much easier to get to the polls. To change Election Day, though, Congress would have to decide that there’s a better day during the year to vote. To date, Congress hasn’t decided Election Day needs to be changed, so we keep up with the longstanding tradition started way back in 1845!