Election Day in the United States

 

Election Day in the United States is the day set by law for the election of public officials. It occurs on the first Tuesday in November, but never November 1. The earliest possible date is November 2 and the latest possible date is November 8 (not on November 1).

For federal offices (President, Vice President, and United States Congress), Election Day occurs only in even-numbered years. Presidential elections are held every four years, in years evenly divisible by four, in which electors for President and Vice President are chosen according to the method determined by each state. Elections to the United States House of Representatives and the United States Senate are held every two years; all Representatives serve two-year terms and are up for election every two years, while Senators serve six-year terms, staggered so that one-third of Senators are elected in any given general election. General elections in which presidential candidates are not on the ballot are referred to as midterm elections. Terms for those elected begin in January the following year; the President and Vice President are inaugurated ("sworn in") on Inauguration Day, usually January 20.

Many state and local government offices are also elected on Election Day as a matter of convenience and cost saving, although a handful of states hold elections for state offices (such as governor) during odd-numbered "off years."

Congress has mandated a uniform date for presidential (3 U.S.C. § 1) and congressional (2 U.S.C. § 1 and 2 U.S.C. § 7) elections, though early voting is nonetheless authorized in many states. In Oregon, where all elections are vote-by-mail, all ballots must be received by a set time on Election Day, as is common with absentee ballots in most states (except overseas military ballots which receive more time by federal law). In the state of Washington, where most counties are vote-by-mail (and in the others most votes are cast by mail as permanent absentee ballots), ballots need only be postmarked by Election Day.

Election Day is a civic holiday in some states, including Delaware, Hawaii, Kentucky, Montana, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, and West Virginia. Some other states require that workers be permitted to take time off from employment without loss of pay. California Elections Code Section 14000 provides that employees otherwise unable to vote must be allowed two hours off with pay, at the beginning or end of a shift.

 

History:

By federal law since 1792, the U.S. Congress permitted the states to conduct their presidential elections (or otherwise to choose their electors) any time in a 34-day period before the first Wednesday of December, which was the day set for the meeting of the electors of the U.S. president and vice-president (the Electoral College), in their respective states. An election date in November was seen as useful because the harvest would have been completed (important in an agrarian society) and the winter-like storms would not yet have begun in earnest (a plus in the days before paved roads and snowplows). However, in this arrangement the states that voted later could be influenced by a candidate's victories in the states that voted earlier, a problem later exacerbated by improved communications via train and telegraph. In close elections, the states that voted last might well determine the outcome.

A uniform date for choosing presidential electors was instituted by the Congress in 1845. Many theories have been advanced as to why the Congress settled on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. The actual reasons, as shown in records of Congressional debate on the bill in December 1844, were fairly prosaic. The bill initially set the national day for choosing presidential electors on "the first Tuesday in November," in years divisible by four (1848, 1852, etc.). But it was pointed out that in some years the period between the first Tuesday in November and the first Wednesday in December (when the electors met in their state capitals to vote) would be more than 34 days, in violation of the existing Electoral College law. So, the bill was amended to move the national date for choosing presidential electors forward to the Tuesday after the first Monday in November, a date scheme already used in the state of New York.

In 1845, the United States was largely an agrarian society. Farmers often needed a full day to travel by horse-drawn vehicles to the county seat to vote. Tuesday was established as election day because it did not interfere with the Biblical Sabbath or with market day, which was on Wednesday in many towns.

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