Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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September 28, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

WHY TUESDAY?....John Quiggin asks "Why Tuesday?" That is, why do Americans always vote on Tuesday? Luckily, John links to a site called Why Tuesday? that offers an answer:

We vote on Tuesday because of an 1845 federal law that was passed when 80% of Americans lived on farms. At the time it could often take a day or longer to get to the polls, and Congress did not want this travel to conflict with days of religious observance, which left Tuesday and Wednesday. Wednesday was market day. So: Tuesday.

Well, this is the story I've always heard too. But now the question is: is this story true? Or is it an urban legend that got started somewhere and has since conquered the world? Beats me. But it certainly sounds plausible, doesn't it?

POSTSCRIPT: By the way, Why Tuesday? is actually an organization trying to get voting day changed, perhaps to the weekend, perhaps to a national holiday. Check 'em out.

Kevin Drum 12:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (30)

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I always assumed that the word Tuesday was a contraction of "Two Parties' Day."

Posted by: Matt on September 28, 2007 at 12:53 PM | PERMALINK

POSTSCRIPT: By the way, Why Tuesday? is actually an organization trying to get voting day changed, perhaps to the weekend, perhaps to a national holiday. Check 'em out.

A far worthier task would be to get rid of the Electoral College. Then we'd have a real democracy.

Posted by: JeffII on September 28, 2007 at 12:57 PM | PERMALINK

The second part of this story, as I recall it being told on perhaps on the History Channel, that it is on the first Tuesday after the first Monday of the month to prevent election day from ever being on the 1st of the month, so as to avoid disruption of the importance of that day for accounting purposes or something.

Posted by: UberMitch on September 28, 2007 at 1:02 PM | PERMALINK

A national holiday would be a terrible idea: everyone would just go on vacation. It's not like it isn't required by law that employers accomodate voting in any way necessary (though it is a problem that employers often don't comply).

The solution is a national HALF DAY. :)

Posted by: Bad on September 28, 2007 at 1:03 PM | PERMALINK

I give up.

Who celebrates what on Monday and Thursday?

Posted by: frankly0 on September 28, 2007 at 1:05 PM | PERMALINK

The story my Government teacher in high school used to tell was that election day was on Tuesday, but never on the first Tuesday of the month so as to never be on a pay day. That way, citizens were less likely to be drunk and not vote or vote carelessly. It made more sense during the 19th century when the average adult male drank a few shots of distilled alcohol per day.

Posted by: gaucho on September 28, 2007 at 1:10 PM | PERMALINK

the average adult male drank a few shots of distilled alcohol per day

What the hell is wrong from society that we have gotten away from this? I say bring back the three martini lunch!

Posted by: UberMitch on September 28, 2007 at 1:15 PM | PERMALINK

Ah, Kevin.

So now you want to move voting day to the weekend, probably a Sabbath day. Can't say I'm surprised, but this is going to backfire bigtime if you attempt it.

Posted by: egbert on September 28, 2007 at 1:21 PM | PERMALINK

Who celebrates what on Monday and Thursday?

If it took a full day or more to get to the polls, Monday voting would mean traveling on Sunday--and more conservative versions of Christianity used to forbid traveling on the Sabbath.

I doubt the Muslims' Friday Sabbath would have been a consideration when this particular tradition was being set in stone, but I do know that at least in the Boston area, Thursday was traditionally payday, and hence shopping day (or rather, shopping evening; all the stores and markets stayed open late on Thursday), and if that was more widespread rather than just a local oddity, interfering with that would not have been popular. If market day was either Wednesday or Thursday, depending on where you were in the country, that might have been a powerful enough reason to avoid both those days.

Posted by: Lis on September 28, 2007 at 1:36 PM | PERMALINK

Why should it even be a single day of voting? Make it over a week, and then people can go whenever's most convenient for them.

Posted by: Glenn on September 28, 2007 at 1:36 PM | PERMALINK

Here is what I found - - makes sense to me - John Tyler had the law passed. After that I assume states made it on Tuesday for other elections out of habit. However, I think some states are moving away from it (Doesn't LA vote for gov etc., on as Saturday???)

In 1845, the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November became the official presidential election date. And in 1872 the Apportionment Act added the election of members of the House. (In case you were absent from school for this: Senators were chosen by state legislature until 1913.) But why Tuesday? Many people had to travel to get to the polls, so Monday was allotted as a travel day because Sunday was a day of worship. Nov. 1 was out because it is a Catholic holy day of obligation, All Saints Day.

Posted by: Tom on September 28, 2007 at 1:40 PM | PERMALINK

So now you want to move voting day to the weekend, probably a Sabbath day.

You know, on the crudest political grounds, the Dems should push Sunday voting. The people who would refuse to vote on Sunday are assuredly the most loyal republicans.

Posted by: UberMitch on September 28, 2007 at 1:41 PM | PERMALINK

Does there really have to be an explanation of election day being Tuesday rather than some other day? Isn't it enough that it be some day other than Saturday and Sunday? There's a virtue in having it the same day of the week (or month) every election, simply because it's easy to remember, right?

Posted by: frankly0 on September 28, 2007 at 1:45 PM | PERMALINK

Florida now has early voting so we can vote for a whole week before Election Day.

Posted by: Rosali on September 28, 2007 at 2:02 PM | PERMALINK

I read that Tuesday was chosen because newly elected Prez. Polk claimed it was part of his mandate. I broke this down and found that 'mandate' was in fact, loosely "Monday + eight". If you do the math, you'll see that's Tuesday (a week later).

Wait, I'm reading more now.... gimmee a few minutes.

Posted by: wishIwuz2 on September 28, 2007 at 2:04 PM | PERMALINK

I broke this down and found that 'mandate' was in fact, loosely "Monday + eight". If you do the math, you'll see that's Tuesday (a week later).

Forget that. Your skills are needed elsewhere. What day, exactly, is the world going to end? Should we bring an umbrella?

Posted by: frankly0 on September 28, 2007 at 2:08 PM | PERMALINK

I heard the same explanation (about market day etc) in an interview with Bill Bradley about his book, I think it was "The New American Story." Don't know if that's an authoritative source on the matter, but I'd assumed that he'd have decent fact checkers.

Posted by: IMU on September 28, 2007 at 2:11 PM | PERMALINK

Oh and FYI Bradley advocated in the book for a weekend of voting, i.e. allow voting both on Saturday AND Sunday. Seems like a decent idea to me.

Posted by: IMU on September 28, 2007 at 2:14 PM | PERMALINK

frankly-zero,

Leave the umbrella home for a change, and lighten up. In turn, I'll work on my humor.

Hey, there's a class next week....

Posted by: wishIwuz2 on September 28, 2007 at 2:23 PM | PERMALINK

I think tuesday's a good enough day to vote but we should make it a national holiday so everyone gets the day off.

As long as we can keep the republicans from changeing it to Monday so everyone goes fishing.

Posted by: Kellygreen on September 28, 2007 at 3:10 PM | PERMALINK

On election days in Mexico, the sale of alcohol is officially prohibited (but you can still get it unofficially for a few extra pesos).

Posted by: GullyFoyle on September 28, 2007 at 4:28 PM | PERMALINK

What's wrong with Tuesday? I know this sounds elitist and all that, but do you really want to make voting more convenient for ignorant yahoos who don't really know anything about the issues or candidates but vote based on the last attack ad they saw?

If somebody can't be bothered to make time to vote on Voting Day (or vote absentee), I'd just as soon they didn't vote.

Posted by: wahoofive on September 28, 2007 at 5:06 PM | PERMALINK

If somebody can't be bothered to make time to vote on Voting Day (or vote absentee), I'd just as soon they didn't vote.

I have no problem with Tuesday (although those worried about the Sabbath might note that many predominantly Christian countries have Sunday elections, and others have Saturday AND Sunday elections), but a lot of people have time getting to the polls between 6 a.m.-7 p.m. If you have to take the kids to day care/school, work a long day, pick up the kids and perhaps run some errands before rushing home to make dinner, it can be tough. (I don't have kids, so don't start with me on how I should be magically planning my day to have more hours in it.)

For this reason, I support keeping the polls open later, even though in my case it means my bitchy election judges will be even ruder at 10 at night.

Posted by: shortstop on September 28, 2007 at 5:41 PM | PERMALINK

I should add that I know quite a few people (admittedly, no one as politically committed as we are here) who have told me that they absolutely intended to vote, but got stuck at work in a last-minute conference call with the west coast or had a sick kid and had to run by the pharmacy, etc.

Stuff like that happens in everyone's busy lives nowadays, and it's not quite fair to say, "If you didn't make time, too bad." When your day goes unexpectedly awry, having a few extra hours to get to the polls can make a difference.

Posted by: shortstop on September 28, 2007 at 5:44 PM | PERMALINK

Pardon me, but wouldn't that be a rural legend?

Posted by: bob in fl on September 28, 2007 at 6:28 PM | PERMALINK

Shortly after the 2000 election, the Washington Post published an op-ed by a professional voting consultant who makes his living advising local government authorities on voting procedures. In his view, most suggested reforms will make things worse, not beter. In the case of weekend voting, the problem is: you won't get enough poll workers to keep the polls open long enough

Posted by: Bill Bennett on September 28, 2007 at 9:22 PM | PERMALINK

Delaware had Saturday voting for a few cycles and returned to Tuesday voting in 2002, I think. Maybe 2000. Presidential general elections were on the 2nd Tues in November, but the others were on Saturday. They switched back because they said that they did not get any more voters to participate, so they might as well go back to the pain in the butt Tuesday voting.

Posted by: cassandra m on September 28, 2007 at 9:30 PM | PERMALINK

We have a lot of elections on Saturday in Texas. Problem is, a lot of people now work Saturdays and Sundays, seven-day weeks or flex weeks, &c. Actually, the weekends are such manic retail / entertainment days that anyone who works in those industries is probably a lot freer to vote on Tuesday ...

Posted by: Tim Morris on September 29, 2007 at 4:41 PM | PERMALINK

Actually wouldn't this be a rural legend as ooposed to an urban legend?

Posted by: jbk on September 30, 2007 at 11:56 PM | PERMALINK

Italy's elections are on Sundays -- the church has a great deal of influence there, but doesn't seem to object. When I told some Italians that US elections are on Tuesdays, they thought it very strange that we would do it on a work day.

Posted by: DSN on October 7, 2007 at 3:57 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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