Why Election Day is outdated

In this Nov. 3, 2012, photo, South Floridians stand in line during the last day of early voting in Miami.
In this Nov. 3, 2012, photo, South Floridians stand in line during the last day of early voting in Miami.
AP Photo/Alan Diaz

Some of my conservative friends have been asking me why people in 35 states are getting to vote before the actual, official Election Day, November 6th.

It seems more states are realizing the idea of a single “election day” on a Tuesday is a pretty outdated idea.  It might not work anymore.

When the Founding Fathers finished the Constitutional Convention back in 1787, they didn’t resolve when the nation’s official election day should occur.

Senate Historian Don Ritchie told NPR, “By the time they [the Founders] got finished they were exhausted and they hadn’t made up their minds on a lot of things.”

That meant the states could set their own election dates. It was essentially total chaos.

By 1845, Congress decided to establish a federal election date. Lawmakers decided it shouldn’t be on a Monday because people would have to travel by buggy and wouldn’t want to start their journeys on the Sabbath.

So here’s the reality check: The U.S. Census reports there were 17,063,353 Americans in 1840. In 2010, there were 308,745,538.

The population was 9.8 per square mile in 1840. Now, it’s 87.4 people per square mile.

In 1840, New York City was the biggest city in the Union with 312,710 residents.  Baltimore was a distant second with 102,313.  New Orleans was third.

In 1840, not all Americans of legal age could vote.  Women couldn’t vote.  African-Americans couldn’t vote.  The challenge of getting voters to the polls was more about horses, buggies and travel time than it was about having enough ballots and standing in line at the polls.

Voting on the first Tuesday after the first Monday of November now seems anachronistic.

Think about it, Election Day was established around the time Captain Wilkes circumnavigated Antarctica.  The first telegraph had just been sent by Samuel B. Morse the year before.  The sewing machine wasn’t even patented yet.

America’s population is 18 times larger than it was in the 1840s. Most of the people who need to vote also need to work on Tuesday. They can’t harness the horse and buggy and take a day off from the farm. The system in 35 states is adjusting to the change in the voting population.

The question isn’t, “Why do we need early voting?” The question is, why don’t all states modernize to accommodate one of the most important rights we have as Americans?

Why Election Day is outdated