Since 1845, Congress has designated the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November as the official day for Presidential and Congressional elections. Most municipalities and states also hold elections on this day. But why do we vote on Tuesday? And why November?
It should come as no surprise to regular readers of this newsletter that the answer has to do with horses and agriculture.
In 1845, most of the nation's population made its living through agriculture.
We vote in November because November falls at at time of year when most all of the harvesting has been done on farms, while it is still mild and dry enough to make travel over dirt and gravel roads possible.
We vote on Tuesday because for much of the 19th and on into the 20th centuries, the only polling place was at the county seat, which necessitated an overnight trip by horse or buggy into town to vote. Elections couldn't be held on Monday, because that would require traveling on Sunday, which was reserved for church. Tuesday was therefore the earliest day in the week that elections could be held. (Market days were frequently held towards the end of the week, so farmers could return home from voting and return to market later in the week.)
So for those who claim they don't have time to go vote today, remember that it used to be a several day process, involving harnessing up a horse and traveling overnight via dirt roads!
My personal favorite addendum to Election Day traditions is "Return Day" in Delaware. Every year, on the Thursday following the Tuesday election, everyone "returns" to Georgetown, DE, the county seat of Sussex County to hear the election result read aloud. "Return Day" dates back to 1791, and includes such rituals as the ceremonial "burying of the hatchet" by the county chairpeople of the Democratic and Republican parties (the hatchet arrives via-horse-drawn hearse) and the horse-drawn parade of winning and losing candidates. You can get your fill of Return Day at its official website: www.returnday.org
Here's a photo from last November's Return Day. Then-vice-president-elect Joe Biden participated in last year's Return Day as the incumbent Senator, re-elected. Biden never missed a Return Day in all his years in Delaware politics. (Photo on flickr by Wilmington University.)
Human history, including the Vice-President's, is written in hoofprints.