Q&A on the News

Q: Has any reason been determined why the framers of the Constitution chose the Tuesday “after the first Monday” for elections instead of the first Tuesday?

— Lance DeLoach, Thomaston

A: The framers of the Constitution actually left unanswered the question of when federal elections would be held, then-Senate historian Don Ritchie told NPR in 2012. Each state, therefore, was left to set its own election date, which resulted in a “crazy quilt of elections,” held at different times throughout the country, Ritchie said.

In 1845, however, Congress passed a law designating the first Tuesday following the first Monday in November as Election Day for federal elections.

At the time, many citizens were farmers who often traveled long distances by wagon or horseback to get to their polling places, according to history.com. Most Americans would have been in church on Sundays, and Wednesdays were traditionally market days for the farmers. Voting on a Tuesday, however, would give the farmers a two-day window in which to travel to and from polling places.

“Spring and early summer elections were thought to interfere with the planting season, and late summer and early fall elections overlapped with the harvest,” according to history.com. “That left the late fall month of November—after the harvest was complete, but before the arrival of harsh winter weather—as the best choice.”

According to the Encyclopedia of American Political Parties and Elections, Congress also hoped to avoid having Election Day fall on Nov. 1 to prevent overlapping with All Saints’ Day or interfering with merchants’ traditional bookkeeping practices on the first of each month.

Fast Copy News Service wrote this column. Do you have a question? We’ll try to get the answer. Call 404-222-2002 or email q&a@ajc.com (include name, phone and city).

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