Every week we go to press on Tuesday. Unfortunately, most of the voting across the nation happens on a Tuesday so you won't see the results of the current fracas this week. But why do we vote on Tuesday? Ask the average citizen and you get a blank look, kind of like the one you see on Dubya's face. The U.S. Constitution gives the power to Congress to determine the day in which the states choose their electoral college representatives (it must be on the same day across the country) and on which day these electors present their votes to Congress. But why did they select a Tuesday? Time to Ask Jeeves.
In 1845 Congress established the official day in which states would choose their electors for the Electoral College. Lets first look at the month: November. Early November across the country falls in that magic time between the completion of harvest and the beginning of the big winter blizzards. Roads were usually in good shape this time of year--you must remember that the highway system didn't exist in 1845 and people still travelled on horseback or buggy.
Next Congress set the day: the first Tuesday after the first Monday. Sounds complicated? There's a reason. Since November 1 is All Saints Day, a Roman Catholic holiday, Congress didn't want to alienate an entire religion. Since the only polling places were usually at the county seat, that usually meant an overnight stay in town for our rural-agrarian population. If elections were on Monday, then people would have needed to leave on a Sunday, a no-no for a churchgoing population. Finally, businesses usually tallied their books on the first of the month and Congress didn't want to influence the vote with a good or bad month of receipts. Henceforth, we vote on Tuesday. Is it time for a change?
People have suggested we change the voting day, perhaps to increase participation in this most American of civil duties. Australia votes on a Saturday, so everyone can't use the work excuse to get out of voting. What a concept. You could have a victory party Saturday night or drown your sorrows if your party lost and not suffer the post election hangover at work. It is also illegal to not vote in Australia and you had better have a good excuse. If you don't vote you are fined. Australia has a 97 percent voter turnout.