The History of Election Day

The day set aside for citizens of the United States to elect public officials is called Election Day. Learn about the history of Election Day and why we have a specific day designated for such an important democratic process.

Currently, Election Day is held on the first Tuesday of November following the first Monday of the month. While this date may seem somewhat arbitrary, it is actually the result of careful consideration by lawmakers in order to make the process of casting a ballot more convenient for voters. Whether these reasons are still worth considering today, several hundred years after they were first mentioned, is a subject for debate.

Starting in the year 1792, the Congress of the United States of America allowed individual states to hold elections at almost any time within 34 days before the first week of December. Early lawmakers decided that the month of November was good for two reasons. Because early American society was largely agrarian, that time period was perfect for voting farmers who would have already finished up the harvest.

State election days in November were also considered early enough so the chances of winter storms arising to impede travel were reduced. Because many people had to travel great distances to reach polling locations, road conditions were important in getting people get voting. Without a harvest and the likelihood of good roads, men were able to make the journey to cast their votes-it is important to remember that women were not allowed to vote in the early years of American history.

As communications improved into the 1800s, it became evident that information passed through telegraph, telegram and newspapers had more far-reaching effects. If one state held an election, especially a presidential election, the results could be made known to several other states yet to hold their own election. Many lawmakers feared that this kind of information would influence voters who had yet to make their decision or else discourage or encourage other people from voting. In 1844, Congress decided to set a national day for elections, or Election Day.

The first Tuesday in November was selected primarily because other days were discarded. Sunday, the Sabbath, was definitely out, and Monday wouldn't work because that would require many voting residents from rural areas to travel on Sunday in order to make the polls on Monday. Tuesday was the next best day, and Congress made it so. They also stipulated that Election Day should be the first Tuesday in November after the first Monday so that the day did not conflict with November 1, a Catholic holy day known as All Saints Day. Thus, Election Day became a nationwide holiday.

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