The first Tuesday in November was established as the date for the presidential election of 1848. Zachary Taylor, known as “Old Rough and Ready,” ran as a Whig candidate. He was the last president to own slaves and had a brilliant forty-year military career. Taylor died in office after serving sixteen months.
The first Tuesday in November is standard now, but it wasn’t always that way. In provincial America, before the Revolutionary War, voters had to travel to the county seat. Elections in northern colonies were in the spring and fall so that snow wouldn’t prevent far-flung voters from arriving on time. The crops were in by November. Roads were mostly dry and passable. It could be a trek of twenty-five miles or more by horseback. Polls would stay open for several days.
Election Day was a big deal, with big crowds, much drinking and carousing, and crowd control was a problem. No rooms in the inns!
Mondays and Tuesdays were the more popular days after the Revolutionary War. After 1776, more polling places were established so that would-be voters didn’t have to travel long distances to the county seat. Each locality could set the date and hours of polling.
Monday was not good because people would have to start travel on Sunday. That’s a day of worship, not travel. By the mid-1850s, Tuesday was the most popular day and soon became law.
Congress did not want elections held on November 1 because that was a holy day in the Catholic Church. Also, merchants did their bookkeeping for the previous month on the first day of the month. So they specified “the first Tuesday after the first Monday.”
November seems to be a good time of the year for national, state, and local elections. Crops are in, school is in session, summer vacations are over, Thanksgiving is several weeks away, winter snows haven’t arrived, and stores have been gearing up for Christmas for months!!
There was a saying: “As Maine goes, so goes the nation.” Maine held its election on the second Monday in September, all the way up to 1949. So it was thought that Maine provided a political barometer, if you will, of how the rest of the nation might vote.
There has been talk of moving Election Day to a weekend so more people could vote. It might be more convenient. Every country has different rules. The English vote on Thursday. Germany votes on a Sunday or holiday. Voting in Australia is compulsory.