Why Are Federal Elections Held the First Tuesday in November?

Answers to your questions about the news.
Nov. 1 2000 6:09 PM

Why Are Federal Elections Held the First Tuesday in November?

They weren't always. The Constitution does not stipulate the date of national elections, just that the Electoral College electors should be chosen on the same day throughout the United States. When the United States was first founded, Congress met in December and usually adjourned in March. This was largely because it was the only time farmers could be away from the land. A 1792 law established that presidential elections should be held sometime in November, which gave enough time to count the votes before the new congressional session started. But the dates of local, state, and congressional elections varied from state to state and year to year. In 1845, the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November became the official presidential election date. And in 1872 the Apportionment Act added the election of members of the House. (In case you were absent from school for this: Senators were chosen by state legislature until 1913.) But why Tuesday? Many people had to travel to get to the polls, so Monday was allotted as a travel day because Sunday was a day of worship. Nov. 1 was out because it is a Catholic holy day of obligation, All Saints Day.

Advertisement

Explainer thanks Betty K. Koed of the Senate Historical Office and Slate reader Alex Rogers-Camp for suggesting the question. For more information click here.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

The Irritating Confidante

John Dickerson on Ben Bradlee’s fascinating relationship with John F. Kennedy.

My Father Invented Social Networking at a Girls’ Reform School in the 1930s

Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

The All The President’s Men Scene That Captured Ben Bradlee

Medical Examiner

Is It Better to Be a Hero Like Batman?

Or an altruist like Bruce Wayne?

Technology

Driving in Circles

The autonomous Google car may never actually happen.

The World’s Human Rights Violators Are Signatories to the World’s Human Rights Treaties

How Punctual Are Germans?

  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 22 2014 12:44 AM We Need More Ben Bradlees His relationship with John F. Kennedy shows what’s missing from today’s Washington journalism.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 21 2014 5:57 PM Soda and Fries Have Lost Their Charm for Both Consumers and Investors
  Life
The Vault
Oct. 21 2014 2:23 PM A Data-Packed Map of American Immigration in 1903
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 21 2014 3:03 PM Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real
  Slate Plus
Working
Oct. 22 2014 6:00 AM Why It’s OK to Ask People What They Do David Plotz talks to two junior staffers about the lessons of Working.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 21 2014 9:42 PM The All The President’s Men Scene That Perfectly Captured Ben Bradlee’s Genius
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 22 2014 8:43 AM Thunderstruck: Rock Out With Mother Nature’s Evil Side
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Oct. 22 2014 7:30 AM An Illusion That Makes Me Happy and Sad
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.