Why We Always Vote On Tuesdays

by Cate Carrejo

This election cycle has revealed a lot of the failings of the United States' current system, from the grueling primary season to the questionable party practice of superdelegates. Some inefficiencies are debatably necessary or unavoidable, but some are so blatantly in need of change that it would be difficult to deny it. One such area is the day on which Americans head to the polls, which was established over 150 years ago. Why does America vote on Tuesdays? The reason doesn't really work for our society anymore.

Before 1845, states were allowed to have elections any time within a 34-day period before the first Wednesday in December. However, the asynchronous voting period was problematic. Results from early-voting states could sway the outcome in states that voted later. That prompted a law to regulate voting to a single day, which had to take the country's agrarian and religious society into consideration. Farmers in rural areas needed a full day to travel to their county seat to vote, as well as a full day to get home. Congress decided on Tuesdays because this allowed farmers to avoid travel on the Sabbath and to make it back to their farms for market day, which was typically a Wednesday. When primary elections gained popularity in the early 20th Century, the tradition carried on, and most primaries are now also held on Tuesdays.

Obviously, that doesn't make much sense anymore for a multitude of reasons. These days, the vast majority of Americans live in urban areas, so travel time isn't much of a consideration. Also, most Americans can't just take off from work from their farms in the middle of the day. Most states don't require employers to give paid time off to vote, creating a disadvantage for working-class Americans who can't afford to skip work. And of course, the Sabbath probably shouldn't be a consideration in the free elections of a secular government.

The good news is that the beginnings of the change already seem underway. President Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Bernie Sanders have all endorsed the idea of making election day a national holiday (Sanders even proposed a bill in the Senate to institute what he calls "Democracy Day"). The most important thing is increasing voter turnout, which has decreased significantly over the last century and trails most other developed nations. A democracy can only stay strong with participation from the electorate, so rethinking Tuesday elections might be a vital step toward revitalizing the country's political efficacy.