The Absurd Reason We Vote on Tuesday

February 29th 2016

Mike Vainisi

Why is Election Day always on a Tuesday?

If you thought there was a sacred, historical reason for Tuesday elections, you're going to be disappointed. The true reason is that in 1845, Congress decided to set a day for elections, and they chose Tuesday. As historian Dan Richie explained to NPR in 2012, Tuesday worked because it was early in the week, and it provided a full day of travel to farmers heading to the polls on horse and buggy without requiring them to travel on Sunday, when they were supposed to be in church.

Horse and buggy

America was much different in 1845. We were an agrarian society; in 1850, 64 percent of the labor force worked on farms. In fact, the reason that Congress did not pick Wednesday to be Election Day also has to do with farming: Wednesday was traditionally a "market day" for farmers, Richie also said.

But in 2015, vastly fewer Americans live on farms, and no one needs a full day of horse and buggy travel to get to the polls. But the weight of tradition keeps Election Day on Tuesday. This tradition, however, could be hurting our democracy.

Tuesday Election Days are not working.

Line to Vote

So why does America do so poorly in voter turnout?

Vote This Way

Many people think Tuesday elections don't help. It's a weekday affair requiring people to leave their job, miss class, or get a babysitter so they can go to the polls. In fact, 35 percent of non-voters in 2014 said they did not vote due to a scheduling conflict with work or school, according to a Pew poll.

Here's the alternative. According to Why Tuesday?, an advocacy group seeking to move election day to a weekend or holiday, countries with weekend voting have higher turnout: France (67.3 percent), Germany (80.2 percent), Thailand (82.1 percent), Russia (56.6 percent), and Japan (68.7 percent).

This can be changed.

Kirsten Gillibrand Wants to Make It Easier For You to Vote

As Why Tuesday? points out, this can be changed by a mere act of Congress — no constitutional amendment is required. Furthermore, we don't have to even move Election Day from Tuesday. We can make it a national holiday on which people get the day off. We can also make it easier to vote by mail or vote early. Early voting, for example, already exists in 37 states.

"There's certainly no silver bullet that will increase American voter participation," Why Tuesday? executive director Jacob Soboroff wrote in 2012. "But we've voted on the same day for 166 years. Our voter turnout is terrible. It's time the United States upgrades to a voting system 2.0, and we should start with weekend voting."

You can register to vote here at OurTime.org.