Why does Election Day have to be on a Tuesday? Technically, because Congress says so. Federal elections for president, U.S House of Representatives and Senate have been held on Tuesdays since 1845, when lawmakers concluded it was the easiest day for farmers in a nation's agrarian society to get to their polling places.
But times have changed. And some in Washington, D.C., feel it's time to change the day we vote, too.
The Democratic members of the House have introduced legislation that would move Election Day from the first Tuesday in November to the first full weekend, saying Saturday and Sunday are more convenient for voters. The lawmakers, Steve Israel of New York and John Larson of Connecticut, believe such a move would boost turnout, too.
"By moving Election Day from a single day in the middle of the work week to a full weekend, we are encouraging more working Americans to participate. Our democracy will be best served when our leaders are elected by as many Americans as possible," Israel said in announcing the legislation earlier this year.
How Weekend Voting Would Work
Under the Weekend Voting Act, polls would open at 10 a.m. (Eastern Time) on Saturdays and close at 6 p.m. on Sundays.
The proposal has support from groups such as Why Tuesday? The nonprofit described the move as a "common-sense change to our voting system" in light of data that show Americans rank poorly in voter participation compared to other countries.
"Americans vote at a rate far behind most nations in the world -- we rank 138th of 172 countries. Of the G8 nations, we rank dead last in voter turnout and five of the seven nations that vote ahead of us vote on a weekend or national holiday," said Why Tuesday? board member Norman J. Ornstein. "Despite convenience voting options for Americans in 35 states, in 15 states voting is Tuesday-or-bust. It's time to make this common-sense change to our voting system."
Why We Vote on Tuesdays
Critics of Tuesday elections say there really is no good reason we must go to the polls that day. But there was at one time.
According to the Why Tuesday group, that particular day was chosen by Congress in 1845 because it was the most convenient for farmers.
"We traveled by horse and buggy. Farmers needed a day to get to the county seat, a day to vote, and a day to get back, without interfering with the three days of worship," the group states on its website. "So that left Tuesday and Wednesday, but Wednesday was market day. So, Tuesday it was."