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Election Day

Election Day FAQ

Q. Why are federal elections held on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November?

A. The Tuesday after the first Monday in November was initially established in 1845 (3 U.S.C. 1) for the appointment of Presidential electors in every fourth year. 2 U.S.C. 7 established this date for electing U.S. Representatives in every even numbered year in 1875. Finaly, 2 U.S.C. 1 established this date as the time for electing U.S. Senators in 1914.

Why early November? For much of our history America was a predominantly agrarian society. Law makers therefore took into account that November was perhaps the most convenient month for farmers and rural workers to be able to travel to the polls. The fall harvest was over, (remembering that spring was planting time and summer was taken up with working the fields and tending the crops) but in the majority of the nation the weather was still mild enough to permit travel over unimproved roads.

Why Tuesday? Since most residents of rural America had to travel a significant distance to the county seat in order to vote, Monday was not considered reasonable as many people would need to begin travel on Sunday. This would, of course, have conflicted with church services and Sunday worship.

Why the first Tuesday after the first Monday? Lawmakers wanted to prevent election day from falling on the first of November for two reasons. November 1st is All Saints Day, a holy day of obligation for Roman Catholics. In addition, most merchants were in the habit of doing their books from the preceding month on the 1st. Congress was apparently worried that the economic success or failure of the previous month might influence the vote of the merchants.

Q. Does my vote really make a difference?

A. "Just" one vote can and often does make a difference in the outcome of an election. Here are some recent examples of real elections decided by one vote.

In 1997, Vermont State representative Sydney Nixon was seated as an apparent one vote winner, 570 to 569. Mr Nixon resigned when the State House determined, after a recount, that he had actually lost to his opponent Robert Emond 572 to 571.

In 1989, a Lansing, Michigan School District millage proposition failed when the final recount produced a tie vote 5,147 for, and 5,147 against. On the original vote count, votes against the proposition were ten more than those in favor. The result meant that the school district had to reduce its budget by $2.5 million.

In 1994, Republican Randall Luthi and Independent Larry Call tied for a seat in the Wyoming House of Representatives from the Jackson Hole area with 1,941 votes each. A recount produced the same result. Mr. Luthi was finally declared the winner when, in a drawing before the State Canvassing Board, a pingpong ball bearing his name was pulled from the cowboy hat of Democratic Governor Mike Sullivan.

In 1997, South Dakota Democrat John McIntyre led Republican Hal Wick 4,195 to 4,191 for the second seat in Legislative District 12 on election night. A subsequent recount showed Wick the winner at 4,192 to 4,191. The State Supreme Court however, ruled that one ballot counted for Wick was invalid due to an overvote. This left the race a tie. After hearing arguments from both sides, the State Legislature voted to seat wick 46 to 20.

Q. What is the order of succession should the President die, become incapacitated, or is otherwise unable to finish his term of office?

A. The order of succession is as follows: Vice President, Speaker of the House, President Pro Tempore of the Senate, Secretary of State, Secretary of the Treasury, Secretary of Defense, Attorney General, and Secretaries of the Interior, Agriculture, Commerce, Labor, Health, Housing, Transportation, Energy, Education, and Veterans Affairs. (Presidential Succession Act of 1947.)

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