Early in our nation’s history, Congress set the date for Electoral College meetings to be the first Wednesday in December, further requiring that states choose their electors within the prior 34 days.
It was not until 1845, though, that Congress established a uniform election day, setting it 29 days before the Electoral College meeting. The Electoral College meeting date was later moved to the Monday after the second Wednesday in December. But the Tuesday election date in early November stuck — i.e., the Tuesday after the first Monday in November.
Why Tuesday? Why early November? Why not simply the first Tuesday in November?
For much of its history, the US was largely an agrarian country. By early November, the fall harvest was completed, and weather was still generally mild enough to allow for travel. After all, voting required travel to the polls, sometimes significant distances.
Sunday travel was out of the question because it would have interfered with worship services. Congress apparently also wanted to prevent election day from falling on the first of November, being All Saints Day, a significant day of obligation for Roman Catholics. And most merchants did their books from the preceding month on the first of the month.
Our forbearers went to a great deal of trouble to accommodate voting by all. Citizens reciprocated by expending the necessary time, energy, and expense to vote. When we vote today, we honor the commitment of those who came before us to make possible our great experiment in self-governance.
We are fortunate to live in a time that requires far less time, energy, and expense to exercise our voting rights. But it is disheartening to realize that there are many among us who now actively resist the principles that guided our founders … seeking to make the exercising of our voting rights less accommodating instead of more.
The unfortunate binary nature of our political system distracts us from the role of politics as a means of resolving the myriad of diverse differences necessary for maintaining a mutually beneficial and harmonious society. Voter apathy and angst are exacerbated by the nature of our winner-take-all you-win-I-lose politics. It’s small wonder that voter turnout in the US is so poor. Perhaps this presidential election will be different.
I’ve always looked upon voting as a time to register my political preferences. Win or lose, my vote gets counted and publicly reported. I vote my conscience so that election results most accurately express the collective mood of the electorate. This election year seems a particularly good time to keep that attitude in mind.