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Why Tuesday ?

September 28th, 2007

Among many questions that you could ask about the US electoral systems, one of the more minor but harder to answer is Why Tuesday. More precisely, if you want to maximise turnout, why not hold the election on Saturday as in Australia, or even keep the polls open all weekend? I asked this question a couple of years ago , and there was no obvious answer. Now there’s an effort to raise the issue and force candidates to take a stand.

As with many other features of the US system, there is a historical explanation that has long since ceased to be relevant, but the bigger question is why such things persist. In particular, why don’t

It’s fair to note that the UK situation is even worse. Elections are traditionally held on Thursday, even though the Prime Minister is free to select a more sensible day of the week.

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  1. m.p.
    September 28th, 2007 at 17:52 | #1

    JQ – I think you’re missing a sentence in the second para.

  2. swio
    September 28th, 2007 at 21:15 | #2

    The basic answer is that its an easy way to suppress turnout. Its generally harder for working class people to vote on a Tuesday so Republicans have stake in the status quo.

    Smarter Democrats are trying to get this changed with a bit of success in some states. Oregon has a really cool vote by mail system that lets you vote over 18 to 14 days.

    Its just one of those partisian things, like the ironic fact that residents of Washington DC don’t have voting rights in the House or Senate. It trends overwhelmingly Democrat so Republicans would never allow it.

  3. wmmbb
    September 29th, 2007 at 00:17 | #3

    I thought the explanation for voting on Tuesday had something to do with allowing farmers to vote. It was proclaimed by President John Tyler in 1845.

    Swio if DC was given Senate representation they presumably would get two senators. I saw support for the proposition from one of the Republican congressmen from Virginia or Maryland.

  4. wmmbb
    September 29th, 2007 at 05:41 | #4

    Or perhaps it decreed by James K Polk who succeeded Tyler in March 1845.

    According to Chris Ulbrich:

    A small but telling detail: while other modern democracies schedule their elections on weekends or holidays, we still hold ours on the day decreed by President James Polk in 1845 – the first Tuesday in November, when the harvest had been gathered, the roads were still passable, and folks out in the country could ride into town the day after the Sabbath.

    The first Tuesday after the first Monday in November was carefully chosen.

  5. September 29th, 2007 at 11:47 | #5

    Of course, the other stupid feature that the US electoral system shares with that of the UK is ‘first past the past’ voting.

  6. Stephen L
    September 29th, 2007 at 17:25 | #6

    SWIO, I don’t think Oregon’s universal postal voting is an improvement on the (admittedly broken) system used in other states.

    Universal postal voting opens up all sorts of dangers. For one thing, abusive family members can ensure that their relatives vote the way they want. This is no joke. Handing out in Australian elections I have witnessed men coming through and taking two copies of one party’s card – one for them and one for their wife – while waving away all others. On occasion the wife snatched a card from a different party while her husband couldn’t see. Clearly she was intending to vote in a way he didn’t like, but lacked the courage to tell him. Universal postal voting means he will have the opportunity to observe her vote.

    Other problems include the opportunity for people to intercept posted ballots (particularly to apartment blocks).

  7. AnnaK
    September 30th, 2007 at 20:29 | #7

    DC would have to be the most educated city in US.

    To say something really classist, it’s funny how the most educated cities tend to be overwhelmingly Democrat.

    Also funny how the most population of their most educated city isn’t allowed to vote.

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