Were you planning on voting for president on November 1st this year? Were you surprised to find out that the election is actually on November 8th?
Prior to 1845, the federal government did not mandate a presidential election date. States could choose any day as long as it was within the 34 days before the meeting of the Electoral College on the first Wednesday of December. But as travel and communications improved, Congress began to be concerned that states that voted early might affect the results of states that voted later and that voters would travel to different states and vote again. In 1845, Congress set the date for presidential elections as the first Tuesday in November after the first Monday. The needs of an agrarian society determined the date. November was chosen because it would not interfere with the fall harvest and would be less likely to be affected by winter storms. Tuesday was chosen because farmers would be able to make the long drive into the county seat to vote without having to leave on the Sabbath and they wouldn’t miss the market day on Wednesday.
But why the first Tuesday after the first Monday? When the first Tuesday is on November 1st, there are more than 34 days before the Electoral College. So Congress added the clause – “after the first Monday.” Now there are always 29 days between the election and the meeting of the Electoral College. Counting this year, there have been 55 presidential elections and only seven have not been on the first Tuesday – 1864, 1892, 1904, 1932, 1960, 1988, and 2016. The next one won’t be until 2044!