Why are presidential elections always held on a Tuesday in November?

For the past 171 years, Election Day in the U.S. has been held on a Tuesday.

Because it always takes place on a business day, some have voiced their concerns that the date may depress voter turnout. Why not make it a national holiday, or at least move it to a weekend, right?

Well, that would go against a tradition that has lasted in the United States since 1845 — when Congress passed a federal law requiring that electors must be appointed on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November.

But since then, many people have wondered: Why Tuesday?

Here are a few key reasons and questions to help explain:

Most Americans were farmers at the time
In the 1800s, the majority of Americans worked as farmers, and with polling stations scattered across the country, it took most residents at least one day of travel in order to cast their votes. Lawmakers had to allow for a travel day before Election Day.

Additionally, the month of November was chosen with farmers in mind. Spring and early summer elections would have interfered with planting season and early fall overlapped with the harvest, according to history.com. Officials were then left with two choices: Late fall or winter. To avoid harsh winter weather, which may have interfered with traveling to vote, the month of November came out victorious.

Weekends were impractical
In the mid-1800s, weekends simply wouldn’t have worked. Farmers spent Saturdays working in the fields and Sundays were considered a day of rest. The majority of Americans spent Sundays in church, and asking the public to skip religious services to vote was out of the question.

Why not Wednesday?
Mondays also wouldn’t have worked, mainly because farmers weren’t likely to travel on Sundays — their day of rest. That’s why officials settled on Tuesdays. Why not Wednesdays, giving them even more time? Officials rejected the mid-week option because Wednesday was typically market day for farmers.

Fast forward to present day America
Clearly, America has changed drastically since 1845. Citizens are no longer barred from voting based on race or gender. We have planes, trains and automobiles for speedy travel. Finally, farm and ranch families now comprise just 2 percent of the U.S. population, the American Farm Bureau Federation reports.

In that case, don’t these reasons for voting on Tuesdays seem a little outdated?

The short answer: Yes, they do.

That’s why politicians, such as President Obama, have voiced their opinions on the matter.

“We are the only advanced democracy that makes it deliberately difficult for people to vote,” said Obama in a recent interview with the Rutgers University student newspaper, The Daily Targum. “And some of it has to do with the nature of our history and our Constitution, where we allow individual states to determine their own processes for structuring elections within certain boundaries.”

“Our democracy is not going to function well when only half or a third of eligible voters are participating,” he added.

Sources: archives.gov, history.com and The Daily Targum.

Copyright (c) 2016 CBS All Rights Reserved


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