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By Denny Banister
Tuesday, November 2, is Election Day. The 2008 election was held on the first Tuesday in November, and this year’s election is also on the first Tuesday in November, but Election Day is not always on the first Tuesday of November.
Elections are actually held on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November, and sometimes that is the second Tuesday of the month, but do you know why? Agriculture and religion have a lot to do with it.
In 1845, when lawmakers were trying to determine the best date to schedule Election Day on a nationwide basis, America was mostly a nation of farmers.
Farmers had to travel a great distance to reach polling places, and horse and wagon was the mode of travel.
Roads were little more than mud paths or trails leading from farms to the county seat where voting took place, so voting required devoting a considerable period of time for travel.
If Election Day were on a Monday it would require many to travel on Sunday, a conflict with the day of worship.
As a result, lawmakers agreed Tuesday would be the best day, but why November?
Lawmakers wanted to choose a time when harvest was likely to be finished, but still before the most harsh winter weather – either harvest or severe weather could keep farmers from the polls.
That explains the choice of the Tuesday and the month of November, but why the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November? It would be a lot simpler and easier to just remember the first Tuesday in November.
The reason is religion. November 1 is All Saints Day, a holy day, and if November 1 were on a Tuesday, many voters would be unable to go to the polls.
Voting today is much easier, and yet a smaller percentage of us go to the polls compared to the days when voting took a real effort. Perhaps our predecessors had a much better awareness of the price we had to pay for the right to vote.
Denny Banister, of Jefferson City, Mo., is the assistant director of public affairs for the Missouri Farm Bureau, the state’s largest farm organization.