Why Tuesday?

What if we voted on the weekend instead?

We all know the formula: “The first Tuesday after the first Monday in November.”

But why Tuesday? That’s a good question, with an interersting historical answer of no contemporary relevance. (There’s another weird story about the “after the first Monday” part.)

Given that the original reasons to vote on Tuesday don’t obtain any more, why not change the date?

A new group called whytuesday.org has an ad in today’s New York Times pointing out that Tuesday voting is an archaism and that turnouts would probably be substantially higher if voting were on the weekend. You can go to their website and endorse the idea, though without learning much about who’s behind the effort.

Some random thoughts:

1. Why didn’t I think of this?

2. If it happened, Democrats would win a lot more elections. (Remember how outraged the Republicans were when the car companies gave in to the UAW demand that Election Day be made a holiday?)

3. Not only would weekend voting remove the additional cost of voting for people with fixed-hour jobs, it would relieve the voting-lines problem by having the polls open not only more hours but at hours when more people can vote. Anyone who’s done election-day work knows that there’s a rush before 9 a.m. and another after 5 p.m., with very light voting in the intervening eight hours. So a precinct can have enough machines to accommodate all the voters if they voted steadily across the day, but still have horrible lines when the after-work rush shows up.

4. It would cost money to keep the polls open two days instead of one. How much money, and how much of that difference could be saved by opening the polls at noon rather than 7 a.m.?

5. There’s a bootstrap problem here. Election Day is set by federal legislation. Congressional Republicans aren’t going to vote themselves out of power. But at minimum Democrats should be ready to run with weekend voting when (if) we get back in.

6. In states controlled by Democrats, there’s a backdoor approach available: extend “early voting” to all precincts for the weekend before the Congressionally mandated Tuesday Election Day. That would cost even more money, keeping the polls open three days instead of one, though again the hours could be cut back. (Saturday noon-4, Sunday 2-6, Tuesday 5-9? That’s only twelve total hours, which is about the length of the normal polling day in most states. And it keeps Tuesday as the official Election Day.)

7. Can we find a foundation willing to sponsor the extra cost for a few pilot tests?

8. Weekend voting is perfect initiative fodder in states such as California.

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