WASHINGTON — U.S. elections always happen on a Tuesday. And not just any Tuesday — the first Tuesday after the first Monday of November.
It's traditional enough for Americans that we don't often question it, but weekday elections are actually a bit of an oddity — the Pew Research Center says most similiar democracies hold their national elections on the weekend.
So where did we get our Tuesday elections? Speaking of, why do we vote in November? The answer to both questions goes back to the U.S.'s early years.
Congress didn't set a date for presidential elections until 1845, a Congressional Research Service paper says. They chose "the Tuesday next after the first Monday in the month of November" every four years. Another Congressional decision in the 1870s set House elections for that same day on even-numbered years.
Those lawmakers had several specific reasons for the timing. When a large portion of citizens are farmers, it turns out early November is a great time for them to vote — it's after the harvest and before harsh, cold weather usually sets in.
"Politicians and Congress and most people wanted to hold it after the farming season was over," said Georgetown University public policy and government professor Jonathan Ladd. "So that's a reason not to hold it in the summer, and earlier than that is before the campaign has time to occur."
They also needed to choose a day of the week. Sundays were out of the question due to religious reasons, but so were Monday and Saturday — many voters needed a day to travel from their homes to the polls.
"They put it one day apart from Sunday so you could be home for church and still, in theory, have a day of travel and vote in a different place," Ladd said.
So why the extra complication of "the Tuesday after the first Monday?"
Ladd said one big reason was All Saints' Day, which happens on Nov. 1. Lawmakers didn't want elections to coincide with the religious day. Another reason was more business-focused: Avoiding Nov. 1 "took into consideration the fact that many merchants used the first day of the month to tally their books from the previous month," CRS says.
Not everyone is happy with Tuesday elections, claiming weekends are better for the modern voter. At least one unsuccessful bill has challenged the idea in Congress, and a nonprofit has asked "Why Tuesday?" for more than a decade.
The U.S. Government Accountability Office, reviewing the issue in 2012 and interviewing election officials, found it might be harder and more expensive to find poll workers and polling places on the weekend. Religious services and family obligations could pose a conflict for potential poll workers.
While Congress could theoretically move elections to the weekend, most people — not to mention lawmakers — are fine with the current timing. There's more conversation around making Election Day a national holiday, though that's a whole debate on its own.
"There often needs to be a big groundswell of demand to move to make changes in these elections," Ladd said.