Superb piece from Adrija Roychowdhury of Indian Express.
How racism, agriculture and politics determined voting days in America. Despite agri no more being a force, the tradition continues.
There are three things to timings in US elections. First is they are held in November. Second they are held between 2 – 8 Nov. Third, they are never held on first Monday.
The first Tuesday after the first Monday in the month of November every four years is auspiciously set aside by Americans as part of a ritual they have been following since January 1845, when the Congress declared it to be the day when America shall vote. The schedule was such that the earliest possible date for election is November 2 and the latest being November 8. The Congress in 1845 had finely plotted out the day as being most convenient for America’s voting population- white, adult males.
As per the explanation given by the Federal Election Commission, November was chosen as the month for voting because majority of America at that point in time was agrarian and by November the harvest season was over; which meant that working people did not require to take a day off for voting. The fact that most people had to travel long distances for the sake of voting also meant that it was necessary that voting took place only once the harvest season was over.
The Congress decided upon Tuesday since the travel time required meant that most people would not be able to reach the voting venue by Monday if they started out on Sunday, which was generally the most favourable day for starting a journey.
The reason for choosing the first Tuesday after the first Monday was two fold- religious and economic. The Federal Election Commission explains it in the following words:
“Why the first Tuesday after the first Monday? Lawmakers wanted to prevent election day from falling on the first of November for two reasons. First, November 1st is All Saints Day, a Holy Day of Obligation for Roman Catholics. Second, most merchants were in the habit of doing their books from the preceding month on the 1st. Apparently, Congress was worried that the economic success or failure of the previous month might prove an undue influence on the vote!”
Interesting bit of history.
What is also interesting is only 8 States have declared the voting day as a holiday:
Over time, the expansion of eligible voter population and a decline in agricultural workers has made a Tuesday in November to be quite an inconvenient time to vote since it is a working day. Only eight states have declared voting day to be a civic holiday while some other states have made provisions for workers to come in late for work in order to accommodate voting. Thirty-four states have made permissible no excuse early voting, wherein a citizen can cast a vote prior to election day. However, why the United States has not officially altered its election day despite the inconvenience it poses for the voters is hard to answer.
Shows how powerful States are in the US set up. They just don’t care for the elections to elect the US President who is easily the most powerful person in the world!