In the olden times — think the 1800s — election day could legally be held at any point over a 34-day window. After all, it took an extremely long time for votes to get counted and states had wide latitude over when they could hold a vote. But by 1845, as communication tools modernized and travel became more convenient, it became clear that allowing the vote to take place over such a long period of time could be harmful to the free exercise of democracy, as results from states were coming in earlier and potentially had an effect on what states that voted later would do. So, Congress declared that federal elections from that point forth would be held, always, on the first Tuesday of November. But why that date? And why isn’t election day a federal holiday?
Why The First Tuesday of November?
That election day is held on the first Tuesday in November was actually in accordance with what made sense for most working people at the time. At that time, most people worked in the agricultural sector and traveled by horse and buggy. Sundays wouldn’t work because most people went to church, and Wednesdays were busy because that’s when farmers went to the marketplace to sell their goods, per Huffington Post.
Because people were traveling by drawn carriage, Monday was the day that people needed to travel. But even the month that the vote was chosen was decided strategically: it was after the fall harvest, but before the harsh cold of winter settled in over the then quite-small country.
Why Do We Need to Change It?
What’s interesting about this fact — besides the fact that it reveals what a different world we live in in 2020 than we did in 1845 — is that it reveals that Congress was interested in providing a voting date to its laborers and citizens that made sense for them based on the work they do. Today, of course, holding the election on the first Tuesday of the month is deeply inconvenient for the vast majority of Americans, whether they work in an office, in food service, or on a farm, as they did in the olden days.
But Congress, it appears, seems unwilling to remedy the inconvenience of when election day is held, as they’ve failed to pass legislation more than once that would make Election Day a federal holiday, move it to Veteran’s Day on November 11, which is already a federal holiday, or move it over two weekend days, Saturday and Sunday, to give people wide latitude as to when they could vote, which would help people who work in non-traditional employment arrangements or those who work in offices as well.
America is basically alone in not making it easier for its citizens to vote. The majority of advanced democracies hold their elections on the weekend, while those that hold it during the week made it a federal holiday. And despite several bills that have been attempted to be passed in the Congress that would make election day a federal holiday, no such a thing has occurred. This is despite the fact that most Americans would like Election Day to become a national and/or federal holiday — regardless of partisan affiliation.
Why Is It Bad For Parents?
No doubt, many of those Americans are working parents, who would appreciate the ability to take time off work to vote rather than trying to cram it in between dropping off their kid at school or doing it after work. Early voting definitely helps — but it can still require working parents to have understanding bosses, or ensuring that one parent has to go to the polls while the other watches the kids. What would help is that if every single American worker had paid time off — or time off at all — to vote. Election Day, of course, should be a Federal holiday. It’s a knock on our democracy that it isn’t.