Agriculture and Religion Determined Election Day

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Tuesday, November 4th, is Election Day. I used to think the elections were always held on the first Tuesday in November, but that is not the case.

Elections are actually held on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November, and sometimes that will be the second Tuesday of the month, but do you know why? Agriculture and religion have a lot to do with it.

America was mostly a nation of farmers in 1845 when lawmakers were trying to determine the best date to schedule Election Day on a nationwide basis. In the mid-1800s, polling places were a great distance away from most of the nation's farms, and this was well before everyone owned cars.

Since horse and wagon was the mode of travel of choice, and roads were little more than mud paths leading from farms to the county seat where voting took place, the act of voting required devoting a considerable period of time for travel. Election Day couldn't be on a Monday as this would require travel on Sunday and would conflict with the day of worship.

Due to the mode and length of travel and the conflict with worship, lawmakers agreed Tuesday would be the best day; and since most Americans in 1845 were farmers, lawmakers selected November as the best month for Election Day.

Harvest was usually completed by November, and farmers were prepared to wait out the winter weather until they could return to the fields in the spring. Most of the severe winter weather came after November, so it was the perfect month for scheduling Election Day.

Initially, it was thought the first Tuesday of November would work best, but the first Tuesday after the first Monday was selected as Election Day, again because of religious observances.

November 1st is All Saints Day, a holy day for Roman Catholics and Episcopalians, and holding elections on a holy day would have reduced the number of voters going to the polls.

Additionally, merchants always balanced their books on the first day of each month in those days, and again this could have reduced the number of voters going to the polls on the first of November. Legislators wanted to pick a day that would not prevent people from voting.

So, what's preventing you from voting November 4th? Nothing, I hope.

Denny Banister, of Jefferson City, Mo., is the assistant director of public affairs for the Missouri Farm Bureau, the state's largest farm organization.

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