History of Election Day: Why we Vote on a Tuesday in November

Bill Petro
4 min readNov 7, 2022

Why does the U.S. vote on a Tuesday in November?

Historically, the United States was an agrarian society where much of the calendar revolved around farming. In 1840, Congress set voting day on the first Tuesday following the first Monday in November.

This time provided a convenient month for farmers, who needed to travel perhaps overnight to the county seat’s polling places following the Autumn harvest season. The weather would not yet have turned bad enough to make rural roads impassable.

Election Day Travel

Rural Americans would begin their trip on Monday rather than Sunday, lest their travel interferes with Sunday worship services. It had to be on a Tuesday following the first Monday to not fall on November 1st, a holiday known as All Saints’ Day. Additionally, the first day of the month was when accounting books were brought up to date. While Election Day is a federal holiday, it is observed only by government holidays in the capital of Washington, D.C., and those counties bordering it in Virginia and Maryland.

Election Day Restrictions

Voting in America was initially limited to citizens who were free, white, male, and landowners.

  • In 1856, Congress removed the landowner restriction.
  • In 1870, Congress passed the 15th Amendment to the Constitution, allowing African American and other non-white men to vote, though this was restricted in parts of the South (and North) until the 1960s. In 1924, Congress granted the right to vote to Native Americans, though some states banned this until the 1940s.
  • In 1920, the 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote, ratified 100 years ago. But the first woman to run for President was Victoria Woodhull, who ran in 1872, almost 50 years before women could vote. Since then, over 200 women have run for President, although until 2016, only from minor political parties.

Election Day Voting Methodologies:

Early National Period Voting

During the first 50 years of elections in the U.S., voting was done by voters at the local courthouse aloud.

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Bill Petro

Writer, historian, technologist. Former Silicon Valley tech exec. Author of fascinating articles on history, tech, pop culture, & travel. https://billpetro.com