This Tuesday, many voters will skip class or a job to cast their votes. The Obama campaign has even encouraged ditching work or school in recent weeks to help with last-minute campaigning. Innumerable campaign volunteers are working to “get out the vote” on Election Day. But why are elections held on Tuesdays in the middle of the work week?
According to Kate Kelly, author of “Election Day: An American Holiday, an American History,” the reason lies in the country’s agrarian roots.
“It’s timed based on the fact that we were a country of farmers,” Kelly said in an interview, explaining that November is an off-season for farming. “In colonial days, the Electoral College met the first Wednesday in December. States could choose a date to vote up to 34 days before then.”
Tuesday wasn’t made the standard until 1845, when Congress looked for a single, national presidential election day. But the concerns of that time were different from those of today.
“In those days, it was difficult to travel. Sunday was the Sabbath, so you had to be home, and Monday was a travel day. So Tuesday was the best day to vote,” Kelly said.
According to, an organization for voting reform, Wednesday was not a viable option because it was a market day. Election Day is scheduled for the “first Tuesday after the first Monday” to avoid Nov. 1, the Catholic holiday of All Saints’ Day, and to allow merchants to do their books from the preceding month on the first of the month.
In recent years, some have questioned the tradition. With modern schedules, it can be difficult to miss work, leading voters to use other means to ensure their vote is counted.
“People kind of wonder whether we’ll ever have a federal holiday. I think the new trend will be early voting,” Kelly said. “They expect a third of all voters this year to vote early. It’s good because the machines are complicated; the lines are long. It gets around the problem of having to vote on a workday.”
Thirty states offer early voting this year, though Michigan is not one of them.

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