Thursday, November 10, 2016

Why is the election on the Tuesday following the first Monday in November?

It all started with a question.  "Has the electoral college/popular vote split ever benefitted Democrats?"  This was regarding Tuesday's election results where Hillary Clinton won the popular vote but Donald Trump won the Electoral College votes to win the presidency of the United States.

I remembered that the same thing had happened in 2000, with Al Gore, the Democrat, losing to George Bush, the Republican, for the same reason.  And that got me wondering about whether this had ever happened prior to 2000, which led to thinking about elections in general.  Here's what I found.

The split between popular vote and Electoral College vote has happened five times, counting this week.

  • In 1824,  Andrew Jackson won the majority of the popular and the electoral vote, but because he didn't the required Electoral College votes, the election was determined by the House of Representatives.  which chose his runner-up, John Quincy Adams.
  • 1876, when Samuel Tilden appeared to win against Rutherford B. Hayes.  20 Electoral College votes were contested, and were awarded to Hayes.
  • Just 8 years later, Grover Cleveland, the incumbent, ran against Benjamin Harrison and won the popular vote but lost the Electoral College vote and the presidency.
Photo credit: Aaron Burden

Why do we vote on the Tuesday following the first Monday in November?  
Because of farmers.
In 1845, when voting was conducted in a more systematic way, most of our country was farmed.  People (men, then) had to travel to vote, sometimes up to a day away.  If voting took place on a Monday, that would interfere with Sunday worship.  If it took place on a Wednesday, that interfered with Market Day.  We vote in November because harvests were brought in by then, and the weather in most parts of the country wasn't too harsh.

Why Tuesday AFTER the first Monday?
November 1 is All Saints Day, and Congress wanted to make sure that the elections never took place on a day when some people of faith would be in church.
How does the whole Electoral College thing work?
When we vote, we vote for a candidate AND that candidate's electors.  Each state has a number of electors equal to the total of their Representatives and Senators.  The District of Columbia also gets 3 electors.  The Democratic and Republican parties usually pick their slate of electors, and with the exception of Maine and Nebraska, the states have a "winner takes all" policy for how they should vote.

The Electoral College has not yet voted to make the election results final.  They will vote on the first Monday after the second Tuesday in December (the 19th.)  Huh?  Despite all my searching, I could not figure out why this day was chosen.

Can anyone help me with this interesting nugget?  I'm just fascinated by the thinking that must have gone into it.  Why would the first Monday after the second Tuesday be better than the third Wednesday?  I'm guessing it might have to do with Christmas, but I'm not sure.

Fascinating stuff, our history!



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