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Farmers have long history with Election Day

It’s not held on a Tuesday for no reason.

Almost everyone knows the day this year’s upcoming presidential election is going to be held. Yet, the reason it was chosen perhaps remains unknown for many.

Recently, an online poll asked the question: What category was targeted when in 1845 Congress decided to hold Election Day on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November?

What would be your guess?

If you guessed teachers (one of the choices in the poll), you would be incorrect.

If you guessed farmers, you would be right.

Why farmers?

Simply put, lawmakers felt that a Tuesday in the fall suited the large farming population for many reasons.

First, harvest season was either nearing its finish or over by early November, allowing farm families more time to participate in an election.

Specifically, lawmakers considered Sunday as a day for worship and Wednesday as the day many went to town to go to the market.

Monday was used as a day that farmers could travel to get to a polling place to vote. So, Tuesday was the day chosen as the most likely day that farmers could make it to town to vote.

As reported by the History Channel, “Americans first began the custom of weekday voting in 1845, when Congress passed a federal law designating the first Tuesday following the first Monday in November as Election Day. Before then, states were allowed to hold elections any time they pleased within a 34-day period before the first Wednesday in December.”

Joe Anderson, a Midwest native, now history professor at Canada’s Mount Royal University, told Successful Farming Tuesday that it’s important to note that many of the deciding lawmakers in 1845 had agricultural backgrounds.

“In an agrarian country, who is serving on the juries of all of the courts? It’s primarily farmers who are representing, because farmers are most of the people, at that time. And it’s not weird for farmers to go to town during the weekday, because that is when they would visit merchants, go see their attorney, meet with creditors, etc.,” Anderson says. 

The history professor points out that there are many things that once revolved around the agrarian calendar (such as school calendars) that have changed, as society becomes more urban and post-industrial. 

“We don’t often think about some of the rural roots of these customs,” Anderson says.

Aside from farmers wrapping up harvest, there were many reasons people wanted the election day to be standardized. 

“Primarily, people wanted the voting day standardized for issues of equity. If all elections were not held on exactly the same date, it’s easy to see how the early returns could come in and influence the voting in other jurisdictions. Today, we blackout election results until the polls close,” Anderson says.

Anderson says if Election Day was to be decided for today’s society, it might be different.

“We no longer have a farmer society, rather it’s a service and tech-related society. The agrarian calendar doesn’t matter to our society the way it once did,” Anderson says. Back then, the time of day didn’t matter for farmers. If it was 10:00 a.m., or 12:00 noon, or 4:00 p.m. Very seldom the time mattered. Today, the time matters tremendously, to all of us, because in this service economy we are driven by meetings and the workflow of other people. We are in a very different place,” Anderson says.

In the mid-1800s, that agrarian society was personalistic, Anderson says.

“You tended to know the people around you. And those people around you were often your debtors and creditors. Those debts were most likely not to be held by a John Deere Credit division. Instead, you borrowed from a wealthy neighbor or relative. Today, we spend more time on the internet. And so that nameless, faceless approach in our society is very, very different,” Anderson says. 

Though the farmer society that determined Election Day in 1845 may not exist, ironically the 2020 presidential candidates still deem the category of farmers as an influential voting bloc.

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