Sunday, November 04, 2012

Why November? Why Tuesday?

Latest Newspaper Column:

As Hurricane Sandy bore down on the Northeast, more than a few people raised the question: What happens if the affected states are still wrecked by Election Day?
Would the election still go on? Could it? Would it be necessary to postpone it? Can you even do that? What plans are in place for the situation where a major disaster occurs on or about Election Day?
Taking the last question first, the answer is: None. And it doesn't look as if there are going to be any such contingency plan put in place in the foreseeable future. The U.S. Congress sets the day for the national election, and let's face it, they're not the most nimble or quick-moving of bodies on their best day.
Which raises another question: Why that day of all days? Why November, and why Tuesday?
The answers lie in the early days of the formation of our republic, when we were largely a nation of farmers. Congress established the "Tuesday after the first Monday in the month of November" by a law passed in 1845.
Before that, the individual states could hold their presidential elections any time they wanted, so long as it was within the 34 days before the Electoral College met on the first Wednesday in December. Imagine what that would do to TV election coverage if they did it that way now. The reporters and pundits, poor dears, would be dead of exhaustion before it was all over. There'd probably be some disadvantages as well.
In any case, Congress decided to standardize the election system so that Election Day was the same all over. Remember that back then a lot of the population lived in rural areas, but did their voting in towns they could only reach by horse, mule, wagon or buggy. That took time.
The records of the congressional debate show that the legislators were aware of the challenges that created. November was not only within that 34-day window before the electors met, but it was also after the last of the harvest had been taken in, so a lot of people were going to be coming to town anyway. A day in November, therefore, still made sense.
To have Election Day on Monday, however, you'd have to make people travel on the Sabbath, so that was out. In most places, Wednesday was market day, when farmers were busy making their money selling the crop, then buying whatever they were going to need for the winter. Thursday was the day for traveling home, and everyone would want to be cleared out by Friday. So Tuesday it was.
In those days, Election Day was a festive event. There were speeches, bands and parades. People would get dressed up, socialize with their neighbors and, in a lot of cases, party like maniacs.
Today, several states mandate closing the bars and banning liquor sales on Election Day, but in the olden days, as far back as Colonial times, whiskey was as much a part of the day as brass bands and bunting.
For example, when George Washington ran for his first political office in the Virginia House of Burgesses, he neglected to wet the whistles of voters and was soundly trounced by his opponent, who supplied them with beer, wine, whiskey and rum punch. The next time he ran, Ol' George (a fast learner) rolled out the barrel, got everyone good and hammered, and won handily.
So now that we've transformed from a largely agrarian nation to one where a 40-plus-hour, five-weekday work week is more the standard, does it really make sense to only have voting on one day, a workday, when it can be a real hassle to go stand in a line and wait to vote - and it may be downright impossible, given the demands of many jobs, not to mention child care?
Well, no. It really doesn't. Many states, like our own North Carolina, have expanded absentee and early voting to extend the period in which voters may cast their ballot. Some states, like New Jersey and California, allow voting by mail. Oregon's gone even further: It conducts all its elections by mail.
We're moving the voting process from the 19th century into the 21st. The first thing to go, sadly enough, was the free booze. But now states are working on expanding access to the polls, which means that people have fewer and fewer excuses.
So, whoever you are, if you haven't done so already, get out there and vote. It's important.


Fran said...

Washington State also votes by mail, although recently some "helpful" GOP volunteers have offered to pick up people's mail-in votes and deliver them. They just don't say where, exactly. That's kind of new. On the other hand, we've had a couple of voting parties, where people bring their ballots to a pre-arranged location (generally a bar), and everyone drinks and votes. Good to know we're getting back to our roots!

Edward said...

A woman in a hot air balloon realized she was lost. She lowered her
altitude and spotted a man in a boat below. She shouted to him,

"Excuse me, can you help me? I promised a friend I would meet him an
hour ago, but I don't know where I am."

The man consulted his portable GPS and replied, "You're in a hot air
balloon, approximately 30 feet above ground elevation of 2,346 feet
above sea level. You are at 31 degrees, 14.97 minutes north latitude
and 100 degrees, 49.09 minutes west longitude.

She rolled her eyes and said, "You must be a Republican."

"I am," replied the man. "How did you know?"

"Well," answered the balloonist, "everything you told me is
technically correct. But I have no idea what to do with your
information, and I'm still lost. Frankly, you've not been much help to

The man smiled and responded, "You must be an Obama-Democrat."

"I am," replied the balloonist. "How did you know?"

"Well," said the man, "you don't know where you are -- or where you
are going. You've risen to where you are, due to a large quantity of
hot air. You made a promise you have no idea how to keep, and you
expect me to solve your problem. You're in exactly the same position
you were in before we met, but somehow, now it's my fault."