Election Day

Presidential Election Day is always the first Tuesday in November. Why can’t the states all set their own days, like in the primaries?

The Electoral College method means that the votes are submitted by the states, not by popular vote. If the states show up at the convention to cast their electoral votes, what difference does is make as to when the state has their election?

I know there are lots of practical and fairness problems, like states that all want to be the first to have a primary, since that often influences results in states that have theirs later.

But is there a federal law mandating Election Day? Or is it just by tacit agreement?

Congress sets the date for federal elections, including the President, Vice President, Senators and Representatives. I don’t know if that statute actually requires states to hold their elections on the same day, but it’s convenient.

It doesn’t. But remember that the idea of choosing Electors by popular vote is a somewhat recent phenomenon. Up into the late 19th century, most state legislatures simply picked whoever they wanted to be Electors.

Yes, it’s been more or less the same since 1845. See history of Election Day.

First off, more than the President is chosen on Election Day – and I believe each state has statute law in place governing the choice of Presidential electors by popular vote. An Elector (using the capitalized form to reference one of the people chosen to cast a vote for President and one for Vice President in the Electoral College) cannot exercise his duty until duly chosen by the people (or, in theory, the state legislature) to be an Elector – all the party leaders can do is name a slate of candidates for Elector pledged to support their party’s choice for President.

Further, there’s a small factual error in the OP. Election Day is always “the Tuesday following the first Monday in November” – and hence a day from November 2-8. This was put in place to prevent Election Day from falling on All Saint’s Day, November 1, which was once of some importance to substantial groups of American Christians.

WAG: Because then we’d have the same problem we have in the primaries; states progressively moving their dates up so they can be first, and more bellwether, until all the states finally move up to the first allowable day. Which would probably be sometime in early February.

I had always heard it was just to prevent it from falling on the first day of the month, which is (or was at one time) important to many businesses for closing out the previous month’s business.

Because Congress has the constitutional power to mandate a uniform election day for the presidential election, and it has chosen to exercise that power. Congress has no constitutional power to mandate a uniform primary day.

As for why Congress chose to mandate a single day for electing electors, in 1845: The invention of the railroad and telegraph opened the possibility of early-voting states having an undue influence on the result (sound familiar, Iowa and New Hampshire?), and Congress wished to prevent that.

There is no “convention”. The electors vote in their own state capitals. It makes a difference when they are chosen, because Congress said it makes a difference.

Congress also has the power to regulate Congressional elections:

Congress exercised this power in the 1870’s to require that House (and later Senate) elections be held concurrent with the presidential election. A few states were given grandfather exemptions to continue different dates, the last being Maine until the 1950’s.

I’ve been seeing both explanations in “fun facts” collections since I was a child, never with any contemporary cite.

The Wiki article, and the Congressional Globe debate to which it links, bear out a more prosaic explanation: It was an inadvertent, and almost certainly unintended, consequence of the 34-day window written into federal law in 1792. When November 1 falls on a Tuesday, it’s 36 days before the first Wednesday in December.

Ignorance fought. Thanks, Freddy.