Copyright ©2012 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

This morning, after the debate, is a Tuesday. And in exactly two weeks, many voters will head to the polls and cast their ballots. NPR's Selena Simmons-Duffin wondered, why do Americans vote on Tuesdays?

SELENA SIMMONS-DUFFIN, BYLINE: The answer, turns out, is a little obscure. Senate historian Don Ritchie had to dig through some historical documents so he could explain.

DON RITCHIE: In the early 19th century, basically, it was a crazy quilt of elections.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: He says the Constitutional Convention didn't get to some key details, leaving states to set their own voting dates; which meant several decades of electoral chaos.

RITCHIE: So finally, in 1845, Congress passed law...

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: If it were Monday, they reasoned, people would have to travel in their buggies on Sunday, the Sabbath. And in a mostly farming society, Wednesday was out because that was often market day. Tuesday was the day, and that seemed to work great.

RITCHIE: In the 1840s, elections were a big to-do. There was a lot of hoopla. There were parades; whole families would come on wagons, from the farms; people would get dressed up, for the occasion.

REP. STEVE ISRAEL: Well, that may have made sense in 1845. But the world has moved on; democracies have moved on. And so Congress should also move on, and make it easier for people to vote.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Now that there are no buggies or market days, Democratic Congressman Steve Israel, of New York, says Tuesday no longer works.

It isn't exactly a convenient day, for a lot of folks. When the census has surveyed people about why they don't vote, one in four says they're too busy, or their schedules don't allow them to get to the polls. Now, many states have other options - like early voting. But not all, says Jacob Soboroff, with the advocacy group Why Tuesday.

JACOB SOBOROFF: In 15 states, you do not have an opportunity to vote early, or with an absentee ballot or by mail; which means you have to vote on Tuesday.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Soboroff and Congressman Israel say, this bars access to democracy. They say it keeps America's voter turnout chronically low. But moving Election Day from Tuesday, turns out to be no easy task.

RITCHIE: We're a very traditional country; and that became a tradition, in a lot of ways.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Historian Don Ritchie says people can set their calendars to it; they can count on it; they're used to it. And though Congressman Israel has been introducing - and reintroducing - a bill to move voting to the weekend, it keeps dying in committee.

ISRAEL: I'm not giving up. I think it's just that important.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: It's not exactly a very sexy issue. It's a little bit technical.

ISRAEL: You know, some people would say it's a rather arcane issue. But I think it's a rather profound issue. I can't think of anything more important than making sure that people will have an opportunity to cast their votes.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: For this election, the date is set. So as in every presidential election since the 1840s, Tuesday is the day to vote.

Selena Simmons-Duffin, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

Copyright © 2012 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: