“The first Tuesday after the first Monday?
    What’s that about?

A friend who wasn’t born in the US asked me when Election Day was, and I explained that it was always the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. Having done so, it occurred to me to ask, Why such a complicated formula? Why was it important that election day should never fall on November 1st?

The only explanation that pops to mind is that November 1 is All Saints Day, and the day after Halloween. But so what? Who cared? I will post all responses not containing the phrase “Trick or Treat.”


Sam Heldman provides the answer, via Infoplease, a service I hadn’t known of. The key fact I didn’t know was that many 19th-century voters had to travel to the county seat to cast their ballots. November 1 being All Saints Day, a holy day of obligation, that would have been inconvenient for Catholics. The first was also special because businesses did their monthly accounting on the first of the month. Tuesday was preferred to Monday to avoid making people travel on Sunday; November is post-harvet downtime for agricultural workers.

Makes sense to me, in terms of 1845. But given the impact of weather on turnout, shouldn’t we think of moving Election Day up to October now?

Update: To hell with changing the month! How about changing the day?

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com