As voters prepare to choose their party nominees for U.S. president, members of the Northern…
DeKalb, Ill. — Why do we vote on a Tuesday in November?
You might be surprised by the answer—unless you were born in the 19th century.
The voting day was first established in 1845. They chose a Tuesday in November for reasons that made sense then as a way to increase voter turnout, but seem antiquated now.
The harvest was over. The worst of the winter storms had yet to come. Sundays were occupied by church activities, and there was still some time to get back home by Wednesday for market day.
Back then, it would take a day or two to travel by horse and carriage to the county seat to vote. Voting days back then were festive as they took on a holiday feel with bands playing.
“That’s where the term bandwagon comes from. The politicians would go from town to town leading up to voting day with a brass band. If you liked the politician speaking, you might ride on the bandwagon to the next town,” said Scot Schraufnagel, a political scientist at Northern Illinois University who recently completed a study on the time and effort it takes to vote in each state in our modern society.
Schraufnagel, along with co-authors Michael J. Pomante II and Quan Li, created a “Cost of Voting Index” by analyzing the impact of 33 different variables dealing with registration and voting laws in each state.
Would changing the voting day improve voter turnout and help Americans feel more invested in their democracy? Other countries, such as South Korea and Singapore, make Election Day a national holiday.
“There are many countries that go out of their way to hold elections on a ‘rest day,’ as opposed to a ‘work day,’ ” Schraufnagel said. “For instance, the most common day for elections in Latin America is Sunday.”
A national holiday for voting might seem beneficial at first glance, but its value likely has been surpassed by the benefits of early voting and mail-in voting, he said. Internet voting, a strong likelihood down the line, would likely have a higher impact on voter turnout, he said.
“That seems to be the answer, moreso than a national holiday,” he said. “I could imagine a scenario where a national holiday would end up with not every business closing, especially restaurants.”
Similar to what’s happened around Thanksgiving, retail stores might end up hosting National Voting Day sales, he said. That would require employees to work, while more white-collar employees would reap the benefits of the Election Day holiday, he said.
Schraufnagel’s recent “Cost of Voting” study compared registration deadlines, voter ID laws, voter-registration restrictions, early and mail-in voting and other characteristics of voting largely shaped by states and lower courts in each presidential election year from 1996 through 2016.
Illinois is one of only 26 states allowing time off with pay to vote, while 24 states do not. In terms of ease of vote, the state ranked 12th best in 2016, up from a rank of 33 in 1996, mainly because of its same-day and online registration options, absentee and early voting offerings, as well as its voter identification law. The law does not require voters to present a form of photo ID at the polls unless they did not provide proof of identity at registration.
Oregon took top honors for making it easy on voters in 2016—followed by Colorado, California, North Dakota and Iowa. Voters in 2016 faced the most inconveniences on the way to the ballot box in Mississippi—followed by Virginia, Tennessee, Indiana and Texas.
Media Contact: Jami Kunzer
Northern Illinois University is a student-centered, nationally recognized public research university, with expertise that benefits its region and spans the globe in a wide variety of fields, including the sciences, humanities, arts, business, engineering, education, health and law. Through its main campus in DeKalb, Illinois, and education centers for students and working professionals in Chicago, Hoffman Estates, Naperville, Oregon and Rockford, NIU offers more than 100 courses of study while serving a diverse and international student body.