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Why are U.S. elections held on a Tuesday?

In this photo taken Sept. 19, 2018, test ballots pop out of a vote counting machine as election worker Kelly Moselage runs it at the King County Elections office in Renton, Wash. If control of the U.S. House comes down to any of the competitive congressio
In this photo taken Sept. 19, 2018, test ballots pop out of a vote counting machine as election worker Kelly Moselage runs it at the King County Elections office in Renton, Wash. If control of the U.S. House comes down to any of the competitive congressional races in Washington state and California, the American public might have to wait a while to learn the outcome. While Washington is one of just three states that conduct all of their elections by mail, it's the only one of those three that allows ballots to be postmarked on Election Day, meaning those ballots often don't reach election officials for a few more days. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Elaine Thompson, AP

SALT LAKE CITY — There’s a reason why we have the voting polls going up on a Tuesday (shout out to anyone who catches that pop culture reference).

We all know elections are on Tuesdays — the first Tuesday following the first Monday in November, in fact. But there’s an actual reason why that is deeply rooted in our history.

Historian of the Senate Don Ritchie told NPR in 2012 that states used to choose their own voting dates. That’s right. The Founding Fathers elected not to establish an election day for all the states.

  • "The Constitutional Convention just met for a very brief time during the summer of 1787," Ritchie told NPR. "By the time they got finished they were exhausted and they hadn't made up their minds on a lot of things."
  • This left the states in “electoral chaos,” NPR reported. Ritchie said it led to a “crazy quilt of elections,” which were held at different times across the country.
  • In 1845, Congress decided to make a change. It decided against Monday because people would have to travel by buggy on Sunday (you know, the Sabbath) to get to the polls.
  • They ruled out Wednesday because that was considered market day. They also avoided Nov. 1 because they worried people would be celebrating All-Saints Day. So they decided on Tuesday.
  • "In the 1840s, elections were a big to-do — there was a lot of hoopla, there were parades," Ritchie said. "Whole families would come on wagons from the farms; people would get dressed up for the occasion."

Change?: Lawmakers have looked to change election day to the weekend.

  • Earlier this year, U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.) and his brother, state Rep. Kevin Boyle, proposed new legislation that would move election day to the first Saturday and Sunday after the first Friday in November, The Morning Call reports.
  • The two cited polling data as reasons to make the move.
  • “In presidential elections from 2000 to 2012, approximately one-fifth of registered voters who did not cast a ballot listed ‘too busy, conflicting work or school schedule’ as their reason for not voting,” the Boyles wrote in a statement, according to The Morning Call.
  • Former New York Rep. Steve Israel tried several times to move election day to the weekend, Quartz reports.
  • Similarly, in 2017, Rhode Island Sen. Jack Reed and New York Rep. Louise Slaughter sponsored the Weekend Voting Act, which would move elections from Tuesdays to the first weekend of November, letting them last for two full days, according to Quartz.