Election Day (United States)

Election Day (United States)

Election Day in the United States is the day set by law for the selection of public officials by popular ballot. For federal offices, it occurs on the Tuesday following the first Monday of November (the Tuesday between November 2 and November 8, inclusively). Presidential elections are held every four years. Elections to the House of Representatives and the Senate are held every two years. Many state and local government offices are also elected on Election Day as a matter of convenience and cost saving. However, a handful of states hold elections for state offices during odd numbered, off years; this varies according to state and local laws.

In Federal elections, all members of the House of Representatives are elected for two-year terms together with one-third of the Senate for six-year terms. In years with a presidential election, electors for President and Vice-president are also chosen according to the method determined by each state.

Congress has mandated a uniform date for Presidential (UnitedStatesCode|3|1) and Congressional (UnitedStatesCode|2|1 and UnitedStatesCode|2|7) elections, though early voting is nonetheless authorized in many states. In Oregon, where all elections are vote-by-mail, all ballots must be received by a set time on Election Day, as is common with absentee ballots in most states (except overseas military ballots which receive more time by Federal law). In the state of Washington, where most counties are vote-by-mail (and in the others most votes are cast by mail as permanent absentee ballots), ballots need only be postmarked by Election Day.

Election Day is a legal holiday in some states, including Delaware, Hawaii, Kentucky, Maryland, Montana, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, and West Virginia. Some other states have laws that allow workers to take time off from employment without reprisal, and often without loss in pay. California law simply states employees must be allowed to vote, but since voting can be done before or after working hours no time off or pay is offered by many employers. Democratic Representative John Conyers of Michigan recently introduced a bill in the House of Representatives that would make Election Day a national holiday, Democracy Day.


By federal law since 1792, the U.S. Congress permitted the states to conduct their presidential elections (or otherwise to choose their Electors) any time in a 34-day period [The bill originally specified a 30-day period for the states to choose their Electors. Annals of Congress, House of Representatives, 2nd Congress, 1st Session, [http://memory.loc.gov/ll/llac/003/0100/01370277.tif p. 278] .] before the first Wednesday of December, which was the day set for the meeting of the Electors of the U.S. president and vice-president (the Electoral College), in their respective states. [Statutes at Large, 2nd Congress, 1st Session, [http://memory.loc.gov/ll/llsl/001/0300/03630239.tif p. 239] .] An election date in November was seen as useful because the harvest would have been completed (important in an agrarian society) and the winter storms would not yet have begun in earnest (a plus in the days before paved roads and snowplows). However, the problems borne of this arrangement were obvious and were intensified by improved communications via train and telegraph: the states that voted later could swell, diminish, or be influenced by a candidate's victories in the states that voted earlier. In close elections, the states that voted last might well determine the outcome. [William C. Kimberling, [http://www.fec.gov/pdf/eleccoll.pdf The Electoral College] , Federal Election Commission, 1992, pp. 6-7]

A uniform date for choosing presidential Electors was instituted by the Congress in 1845. [Statutes at Large, 28th Congress, 2nd Session, [http://memory.loc.gov/ll/llsl/005/0700/07590721.tif p. 721] .] Many theories have been advanced as to why the Congress settled on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. [The theories include that it was placed to avoid the Catholic All Saints Day, (November 1), a holy day of obligation. See [http://www.infoplease.com/spot/electionday1.html InfoPlease.com] and [http://www.eac.gov/voter/faq/ U.S. Election Assistance Commission] ] The actual reasons, as shown in records of Congressional debate on the bill in December 1844, were fairly prosaic. The bill initially set the national day for choosing presidential Electors on "the first Tuesday in November," in years divisible by four (1848, 1852, etc.). But it was pointed out that in some years the period between the first Tuesday in November and the first Wednesday in December (when the Electoral College met) would be more than 34 days, in violation of the existing Electoral College law. So, the bill was amended to move the national date for choosing presidential Electors forward to the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November, a date scheme already used in the state of New York. [Congressional Globe, House of Representatives, 28th Congress, 2nd Session, [http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/ampage?collId=llcg&fileName=015/llcg015.db&recNum=29 pp. 14-15] .]

As for the day of the week chosen, Sunday was ruled out because it was the Sabbath. An election on Monday might require travel on Sunday, and so was also ruled out. Tuesday had no problem.


There are tens of thousands of voting precincts in the United States, each of which must be supplied and staffed with election judges on Election Day, usually a workday in most of the country.


Many social activists oppose this date, believing that it decreases voter turnout, since it is part of the workweek. Many advocate making election day a federal holiday or allowing voters to cast their ballots over two or more days. The United Auto Workers union has negotiated making Election Day a holiday for its workers at the U.S. domestic auto manufacturers.

In response to this, many states have implemented early voting, which allows the voters to cast ballots, in many cases up to two weeks early. Also, all states have some kind of absentee ballot system. The state of Oregon, for example, performs all major elections through mail-in ballots that are sent to voters several weeks before Election Day. Some companies will let their employees come in late or leave early on Election Day to allow them an opportunity to get to their precinct and vote.

Federal elections

Elective offices of the U.S. government are filled by Election Day balloting, for terms starting in January of the following year, specifically:
* in every even-numbered year,
** for all seats in the United States House of Representatives;
** for approximately 1/3 of United States Senate seats;
* additionally, every four years,
** for the President and Vice-President.

Local elections

Elective offices of municipalities, counties (in most states), and other local entities (such as school boards and other special-purpose districts) have their elections subject to rules of their state, and in some states, they vary according to choices of the jurisdiction in question. For instance, in Connecticut, all towns, cities, and boroughs hold elections in every odd-numbered year, but as of 2004, 16 have them on the first Monday in May, while the other 153 are on Election Day. In Massachusetts, the 50 cities are required to hold their elections on Election Day, but the 301 towns may choose any date, and most have traditionally held their elections in early spring, after the last snowfall.


ee also

* Democracy Day (United States)
* Election
* United States presidential election
* U.S. state holiday
* Public holidays of the United States
* United States general elections, 2005
* United States general elections, 2006
* United States general elections, 2007
* United States general elections, 2008
* U.S. midterm election
* Off-year elections
* Inauguration Day
* Primary election

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