Why were 1860s state and federal elections held on different days?

I just finished Doris Kearns Goodwin’s pretty good Team of Rivals (Simon & Schuster 2005), about Lincoln and his fractious Cabinet. I was reminded that state and federal elections were held on different days in the 1860s (and presumably earlier in American history, too). In October 1862, gubernatorial elections in Penna. and Ohio were closely watched to see what they might portend for the November congressional elections. State elections in Vermont and Maine in September 1864, and in Ohio, Penna. and Indiana in October, were thought to be auspicious for Lincoln’s reelection and the congressional balloting in November.

Why not have all such elections on the same day each year, as we now do? Particularly given the expense and trouble of holding elections, and the likelihood that the more rural, farming population of that era might find it more difficult to come to town to vote twice in the autumn, it’s puzzling.

How is this alarmingly different than the handful of states which today (LA and VA come to mind) that elect their governors in odd numbered years?

A good argument could be made that you want the electorate to focus on the local issues (state legislature, governor) in September, and then concentrate on the federal elections for the next couple of months…

In the case of Maine (which for years held federal elections early as well) this was due to harsh weather which made it difficult for voters to get to the polling places in Bovember.

It was different only in that there were a lot more states doing it, and some of the state election days were so close to the federal election day (in October of even-numbered years, as Elendil notes) that you wonder why they didn’t synchronize them.

There’s no simple answer as to why they didn’t, other than to observe that election custom originated with each state doing its own thing, and only gradually did the federal government impose uniformity on federal elections. It wasn’t until 1845 that Congress mandated that presidential elections be held in every state on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November, and only in 1872 did Congress extend the mandate to House elections. Even then, several states were grandfathered out of the House requirement, with Maine maintaing September House (and Senate after 1913) elections into the 1950’s.

The presidential election mandate, at first, didn’t offer a compelling enough reason to every state to move its state elections as well. Some New England states still had annual gubernatorial and legislative elections in the 1860’s, so complete synchronization would have been impossible. In an era before public opinion polling, people seem to have liked the staggered elections, which often served as a leading indicator of national trends. Simple inertia played a part as well.

Eventually, of course, most states did make state and federal election day the same. As more people moved into paid employment, repeated voting became more difficult, and elections became more expensive with larger populations, state-printed ballots, and tabulation machinery. Today only Mississippi, Virginia, Louisiana, and New Jersey conduct asynchronous elections.

In many instances, it must have related to farmers and their schedules.

I’ve scanned some newspaper articles showing Acts passed by the Ohio legislature in the 1850’s. Truly enlightening. Different counties had varied days/weeks that the Court of Common Pleas would be in session. So varied, by county, you wouldn’t believe. Elections were similarly diverse. Seemingly random, but I’m sure they had a pattern. I’ll read further.

And, after previewing, Freddy the Pig has posted some good info.