Making elections less frightening

Have you ever wondered why the U.S. elects the most powerful human being on the planet so close to Halloween … on a Tuesday?

Me either, until this year.

October 17, 2016 - Atlanta - Voters take a photo with state Rep. Park Cannon (center), D-Atlanta, as they wait to vote at the Fulton County Government Center. Congressman John Lewis, Fulton County Chairman John Eaves and state Rep. Park Cannon, D-Atlanta, led young Democrats on a march from the Nelson Street Bridge to the Fulton County Government Center where the first day of early voting had begun. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM

October 17, 2016 – Atlanta – Early voters take a photo with state Rep. Park Cannon (center), D-Atlanta, as they wait to vote at the Fulton County Government Center. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM

According to polls, which some don’t trust, many Americans find their options for president frightening.

The real reason we vote so close to “All Hallows’ Eve” is steeped more in history than present-day logic.

The first, and some say greatest, U.S. president was not elected by popular vote.

It sounds like fantasy, but when George Washington was elected in 1789 the U.S. had no political parties or Twitter feeds.

The 69 electors chosen from 10 states unanimously supported Washington. New York, Rhode Island and North Carolina did not participate in the first presidential election, but it wouldn’t have affected the outcome. Washington, after leading the U.S. to victory in the Revolutionary War, could have been elected king.

It took a long time to elect a president in those days. Voting began on Dec. 15, 1788, and ended on January 10, 1789, just three days after the Georgia Legislature appointed our state’s five electors.

By 1792, federal law required states to conduct presidential elections within a 34-day period preceding the first Wednesday of December. The states voted for president on different days, much like presidential primaries are currently scheduled. And, just like with today’s primaries, it was thought the states that went to the polls earliest influenced how later states would vote.

In 1845, Congress decided everyone should vote on the same day — the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November.

Why so late in the year? Before the era of supermarkets the U.S. was largely agrarian and the farming way of life dominated society. In November, the harvest would have been completed and ice and snow would have not yet sequestered northern voters in their homes.

Why Tuesday? Farmers, it was thought, needed a day to travel by wagon to a voting place and could not vote on Sunday, when most of them were in church, or Wednesday, when crops were often sold at market. Voting earlier in the week gave poll workers more work days to tabulate the vote, which was done without the aid of computers.

History is interesting, but it’s a poor reason to keep doing something the same way.

With early voting so popular, it matters less when we hold elections, but wouldn’t it be nice if we could punch the proverbial ballot on a day most of us don’t have to punch a time card?

You may not have noticed, but there’s not a lot of farmers left. And polling places are almost everywhere. I could walk to mine in a few minutes — even if “Snowmageddon” returns.

Some have suggested making election day a federal holiday, but the back end of the calendar is already stacked with Thanksgiving and Christmas.

If we voted during the summer, when many people are taking time off for vacation, it might increase voter turnout. In a democracy, that is supposed to be a good thing.

So why not vote during the July 4th weekend? After all, what could be more American than voting.

And, if the next election is anything like this one, we may need a nice, long weekend to recover.


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