Ever wonder why Americans pick their president on a Tuesday? The short answer is that it’s the law: In 1845, Congress voted to standardize Election Day as the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. (They included that “after the first Monday” part to make sure the election wouldn’t be held on November 1, the date of the Catholic holy day known as All Saints Day.) Lawmakers chose Tuesday in order to give voters one travel day after the Sunday day of rest to get from their farms into town to vote.
It’s a system that is hopelessly outdated today, argues Jacob Soboroff, executive director of a group called “Why Tuesday,” which is trying to boost voter participation by moving Election Day to the weekend.
“In 2011, coming onto 2012, we will be voting on a day and in a way that was set for an agrarian society 160-something years ago,” he said in an interview with Hotsheet. (See at left.) “Frankly it literally is just silly that we’re still voting on this day when so many Americans are working two jobs, don’t necessarily have time to make it to the polls before or after work.”
A bill called the Weekend Voting Act seeks to move Election Day to the first weekend in November, allowing voters to cast ballots on either Saturday or Sunday. While the bill has its backers in Congress, it has not been introduced in the current Congress, and Soboroff acknowledges it is difficult to get lawmakers to take up the issue.
“There’s not a lot of incentive for people in Congress to change it…except for the fact that is vital to the health of our Democracy,” he said, noting that most of the men and women serving today were themselves elected on a Tuesday.
Soboroff rejected the notion that moving Election Day would benefit either political party, stating that “you do not have to be a Democrat or a Republican to be a working person that has two jobs or to be a single mother or to basically have a hard time getting to the polls.”
He also said that while early and absentee voting helps address the problem, states have differing laws when it comes to early voting and many states lack no-excuse absentee voting. He calls the Weekend Voting Act a “national solution” that could potentially push voter participation from the 64 percent mark in 2008 up to 70, 80 or even 90 percent.