As far as I can tell, the date of Election Day in the US was set in 1845:

the electors of President and Vice President shall be appointed in each State on the Tuesday next after the first Monday in the month of November of the year in which they are to be appointed.

Before this point, states would presumably select their presidential electors on varying dates. I understand why the choice of a specific common election day was necessary, but why was a November date in particular selected, and why a Tuesday?


1 Answer 1


[W]hy was a November date in particular selected, and why a Tuesday?

Why Is Election Day a Tuesday in November?

But why a Tuesday in November? The answer stems from the agrarian makeup of 19th-century America. In the 1800s, most citizens worked as farmers and lived far from their polling place. Since people often traveled at least a day to vote, lawmakers needed to allow a two-day window for Election Day. Weekends were impractical, since most people spent Sundays in church, and Wednesday was market day for farmers.

With this in mind, Tuesday was selected as the first and most convenient day of the week to hold elections. Farm culture also explains why Election Day always falls in November. Spring and early summer elections were thought to interfere with the planting season, and late summer and early fall elections overlapped with the harvest. 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.

Election Day (United States)

By 1792, federal law permitted each state to choose Presidential electors any time within a 34-day period before the first Wednesday in December. A November election was convenient because the harvest would have been completed but the most severe winter weather, impeding transportation, would not yet have arrived, while the new election results also would roughly conform to a new year.

Development of the Morse electric telegraph, funded by Congress in 1843 and successfully tested in 1844, was a technological change that clearly augured an imminent future of instant communication nationwide. To prevent information from one state from influencing Presidential electoral outcomes in another, Congress responded in 1845 by mandating a uniform national date for choosing Presidential electors. Congress chose the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November to harmonize current electoral practice with the existing 34-day window in federal law, as the span between Election Day and the first Wednesday in December is always 29 days. The effect is to constrain Election Day to the week between November 2 and November 8 inclusive. Beginning with Presidential elections, gradually all states brought nearly all elections into conformity with this date.

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    Interesting that their stated goal being to avoid influence from one state affecting others, they won't do the same for primary elections, which are spread out all over the place and definitely influence each other, to the point where there's almost no reason to hold primaries in some of the later states, because by the time it gets to those states, all but 1 of the candidates have dropped out of the race anyhow. Commented Jun 17, 2020 at 14:31
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    But why is this still the case? It's obviously inconvenient. Commented Jun 17, 2020 at 14:32
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    @DarrelHoffman - Presidential primaries are run by state political parties for the benefit of those parties; as such, the primaries fall outside of Congressional law-making and into whatever the individual states are willing to do to accommodate those parties. In some states, a caucus system is used instead of a primary. Some political parties select their presidential candidates at conventions without any preceding primary or caucus.
    – Rick Smith
    Commented Jun 17, 2020 at 15:11
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    @henning--reinstateMonica Tradition is hard to overcome.
    – Barmar
    Commented Jun 17, 2020 at 15:34

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