Why Tuesday ?

by John Quiggin on September 28, 2007

Among many questions that you could ask about the US electoral systems, one of the more minor but harder to answer is Why Tuesday. More precisely, if you want to maximise turnout, why not hold the election on Saturday as in Australia, or even keep the polls open all weekend? I asked this question a couple of years ago , and there was no obvious answer. Now there’s an effort to raise the issue and force candidates to take a stand.

As with many other features of the US system, there is a historical explanation that has long since ceased to be relevant, but the bigger question is why such things persist. In particular, why don’t

It’s fair to note that the UK situation is even worse. Elections are traditionally held on Thursday, even though the Prime Minister is free to select a more sensible day of the week.

{ 2 trackbacks }

Signifying Nothing
09.28.07 at 2:42 pm
Voting on Tuesdays at Jacob Christensen
09.29.07 at 11:49 pm

{ 77 comments }

1

reason 09.28.07 at 6:36 am

Of course you could just declare it a national holiday, like Melbourne Cup Day is Melbourne on the same day (mostly).

2

aaron_m 09.28.07 at 6:37 am

Are there any empirical studies on which social groups tend to be disadvantaged by this policy? A quick google search did not bring back anything obvious.

Is election day a holiday or not? If not one might hypothesis that people with less flexible jobs are disadvantaged and that people at the lower end of earnings are over represented in this category.

3

derek 09.28.07 at 7:16 am

Yes, but in the UK, voting doesn’t take any time out of the working day. We can pop in to our local polling station before leaving for work, or vote after work, and still have plenty of time to shop, cook, and relax. The shameful lines of working people waiting for hours to exercise their democratic rights, that are such a stain on America’s reputation, are a sight unknown in Britain.

4

stostosto 09.28.07 at 8:56 am

I have sometimes wondered about this myself. In Denmark elections and referenda are also invariably held on Tuesdays, solely by tradition, i.e. not legally prescribed. But we have a voter participation in the 80-85 pct. range, so it wouldn’t appear to work heavily against participation as such.

5

ben saunders 09.28.07 at 9:06 am

I’m not sure why you say the UK is worse. I don’t see why Thursday is worse than Tuesday, so is it simply because Thursdays are picked when it could be a better day?

Chris Brooke has a discussion of the UK case here

6

mollymooly 09.28.07 at 9:53 am

The best solution would be to give people the day off provided they vote. Anyway, increased postal voting, especially in the US, is making the nominal polling day less relevant.

In Ireland, many third-level students, especially from “down the country” are registered to vote in their parental home rather than their college residence. Since students are somewhat more-than-averagely left-wing, Labour ensured the 1997 election was on a Friday to allow them to travel home for the weekend to vote. Fianna Fail ensured the 2002 and 2007 elections were on a Thursday for the converse reason. I think Students Unions try to encourage last-minute re-registration once the election is called and the date made known, but I’m not sure how successful these efforts are.

Are there rules about the day of the week for US primary elections?

7

h. 09.28.07 at 9:59 am

Voting in Australia is compulsory isn’t it? So I can’t see what difference it makes what day elections are held there.

Yeah, as someone said upthread there, the real scandal is having to wait an age to be able to vote in the U.S. I’m not sure I’d bother to exercise my voting rights if it meant I had to queue up for a couple of hours.

8

aaron_m 09.28.07 at 10:35 am

“The best solution would be to give people the day off provided they vote.”

Sounds good but I doubt it would work in the US. Employers pressuring employees NOT to vote might be a real and significant result. And you can just guess how hourly people would be treated. Ooops, creating incentives for the poorer not to vote. I bet this is just a small portion of the insanity that would follow.

Could work in Sweden :)

9

Brett Bellmore 09.28.07 at 10:39 am

Um, because it’s not a holy day of any religion I’m aware of, as can not be said of Saturday or Sunday? At least, I’m guessing that might have played a part in the reasoning.

10

Quo Vadis 09.28.07 at 11:44 am

It’s really a non-issue. Persons who don’t want to vote on election day or who find it inconvenient to do so simply vote by mail using an absentee ballot. Many people do this whether they need to or not. Were it not for the fact that I honestly enjoy the participatory experience, I would vote absentee.

11

Jacob Soboroff 09.28.07 at 11:52 am

“Anyway, increased postal voting, especially in the US, is making the nominal polling day less relevant.”

True… in 35 out of the 50 United States. But because we lack standardization in our federal elections, if you don’t have a good excuse, it’s Tuesday or bust in the 15 remaining states. That’s also why you see this primary election schedule tango in the United States, which now has campaigns starting, and Americans voting, earlier than ever. While that’s a great schedule for fundraising, it is a great schedule for engaging the electorate? The campaign is now (and has been for quite some time) in full swing, and there’s only… over a year left before election day.

12

CharleyCarp 09.28.07 at 12:02 pm

6. I know a fellow who wanted to offer employees (he runs a manufacturing company) the day off if the voted. But was told it’s illegal.

* * *

State employees get the day off in Montana.

Absentee isn’t particularly difficult.

Turnout is quite different by state, although it’s on the same day. Look at this: is the secret to increasing turnout moving people closer to Canada?

13

CharleyCarp 09.28.07 at 12:03 pm

Oops.

14

john m. 09.28.07 at 12:34 pm

Um, because it’s not a holy day of any religion I’m aware of, as can not be said of Saturday or Sunday? At least, I’m guessing that might have played a part in the reasoning.

Voting makes God angry.

15

eudoxis 09.28.07 at 1:19 pm

50 states allow voting by mail, 31 states have early voting including Saturdays, some for weeks in advance.

16

Sk 09.28.07 at 2:02 pm

sk – I’m pretty sure I banned you or your earlier pseudonym from my comments threads already , but, if not, consider yourself banned. I’m not interested in your pointless snark JQ

17

Christmas 09.28.07 at 2:05 pm

Um, because it’s not a holy day of any religion I’m aware of, as can not be said of Saturday or Sunday?

I like how this statement is prefaced with an “um” to indicate that we are to find its tortured Medieval logic totally obvious.

18

Bruce Webb 09.28.07 at 2:20 pm

“Um, because it’s not a holy day of any religion I’m aware of, as can not be said of Saturday or Sunday?”

Can an observant Jew use an electronic voting machine on the Sabbath?

And I can hardly imagine a better way to suppress working class turnout then scheduling an election opposite of both the NFL and Nascar. Moreover there are a lot of people who build their Sundays around Church and family, including traditionally an early Sunday Dinner.

I am not an observant anything, but there are a lot of towns across the country where you would have big problems staffing your polling places on Sunday. Even now skipping Church is not always an option.

(Oddly enough I actually was trained as a Medievalist, maybe that is why the logic was totally obvious to me.)

19

SamChevre 09.28.07 at 2:26 pm

End of second paragraph–In particular why don’t What?

20

Chris Lawrence 09.28.07 at 2:42 pm

Louisiana votes on Saturdays (except the federal general election, which by federal law has to take place on the Tuesday after the 1st Monday of November), although any election that would be on a Jewish holiday is automatically moved to the previous Saturday.

I suppose an orthodox Jew who felt he/she couldn’t vote using the electronic machine could either vote absentee or during early voting at the parish registrar’s office.

I’ve never waited more than 15 minutes to cast a vote (and, in most cases, I walked in and out immediately), but maybe I’m weird. Or just planned ahead and didn’t try to vote 15 minutes before the polls close.

21

Katherine 09.28.07 at 2:50 pm

Derek at comment 3 made a good point – when voting in the UK I have never had to queue, I’ve often forgotten my polling card but that’s not been a bother, and I’ve never even seen an electronic machine – I just get a piece of paper and a pencil.

My personal opinion is that it is silly to have voting on a week day, but if you do have it on a week day, then make it take a long time to vote and make it more difficult and complicated for people to vote, then that sounds to me like a system actively dislikes people voting.

22

Isabel 09.28.07 at 3:08 pm

One explanation I’ve heard is that in the old days it was felt rural people might need a day to travel to the voting place; thus we get Tuesday voting because some Christians didn’t want to travel on Sunday and so they needed Monday for travel.

This also explains why Election Day in the US is the Tuesday after the first Monday of Nov., and not the first Tuesday of Nov. — thus election day cannot fall on November 1, which is All Saints’ Day.

23

Josh R. 09.28.07 at 3:13 pm

As someone ignorant of overseas voting, could someone give a quick rundown as to why it is so quick and easy to vote in England, etc? Why are long lines seemingly a distinctly American voting endeavor? Thanks.

24

duus 09.28.07 at 3:19 pm

John Quiggin wrote: “if you want to maximize turnout,…”

Exactly. Alternatively, if you want to minimize turnout among the working and middle class (or, rather, maintain a system in which…)

There are substantial groups of people whose interests are not served by maximizing turnout.

25

Sock Puppet of the Great Satan 09.28.07 at 3:22 pm

“Why are long lines seemingly a distinctly American voting endeavor?”

Probably because ‘Merkin ballots are so goddamn *long*. In the UK, you vote, it’s one or two X’s, for a councillor or MP.

In the US, you’ll have votes for local (city supervisor, mayor, several local districts [e.g. school, transport, maybe public utility districts]), in some states judges are elected, you’ll have several statewide offices, state-level legislators, Federal House and Senate, and, in some states and locales, local and state propositions, of which there may be a dozen or so each.

So instead of one bit of paper with a couple of boxes, you may have 4-6 double-sided optical ballots to complete.

26

Katherine 09.28.07 at 3:23 pm

I don’t have a definitive answer to that – perhaps we can compare notes? For example, all of the polling stations I have had to go to have been well within a half and hour’s walk from my home. Could it be that there are more polling stations per person in the UK?

Also, all the tumult over voter registration in the US made me realise how much quicker/simpler/loser the UK registration system is. You are registered virtually passively, rather than having to be terribly active about it. You getting a polling card through the post telling you where your polling station is, but if you don’t take it with you you won’t be turned away. You just give your name and address at the station and Bob’s your uncle. Could it be that the process at polling stations is thereby quicker in the UK?

For the purposes of voting, you get a piece of paper. You go into the booth and use a pencil. You bring out your piece of paper and put it in a box. Although there are moves/rumblings towards e-voting, I haven’t heard much on it since. It seems that the paper and pencil method is pretty efficient. Are there US methods that take longer?

27

Sock Puppet of the Great Satan 09.28.07 at 3:23 pm

Oh, and I forgot candidate primaries.

28

Gary Carson 09.28.07 at 3:28 pm

More people are home, in the location of their registration, on Tuesday than on Saturday. Weekend trips.

29

omar shanks 09.28.07 at 3:35 pm

“Um, because it’s not a holy day of any religion I’m aware of, as can not be said of Saturday or Sunday?”

But Tuesday is the holy day of my god Tyr! By asking me to touch a screen, or pull a lever, or hold a pen to a piece of paper, they would have me mock my Lord for his missing arm, which he offered to Fenrir to save the world.

Blasphemers!

30

richard 09.28.07 at 3:36 pm

As I recall, there have been several scandals in the past decade in both the US and UK where postal or absentee or overseas ballots have been simply ignored, landfilled or otherwise excluded from the count. I wouldn’t trust it, and I definitely don’t think it’s a non-issue.

Voting day should be a holiday, apart from the usual routine. Unless it’s not important and the same set of cronies always get in regardless, of course.

31

Brett Bellmore 09.28.07 at 4:06 pm

Actually, Christmas, the “um” was meant to indicate hestitant uncertainty. Though I have to say that the logic of not holding elections on weekends being originally of religious motivation seems pretty obvious.

32

eudoxis 09.28.07 at 4:14 pm

Australia would still have high voter turnout, even if they switched polling dates to Tuesdays. Compulsary voting laws have that kind of effect.

33

Grand Moff Texan 09.28.07 at 4:33 pm

Voting in the US used to be hosted in alcohol-serving establishments, with candidates giving out liquor as a promotion.

Prohibition ruined all that.
.

34

eudoxis 09.28.07 at 4:42 pm

I don’t have enough information to know if Tuesday voting keeps certain groups of voters from voting. (For me it was convenient that it was during childcare/school hours.) I do wonder, however, about voting locations. The last time I voted, it was in a church building. Would this be a deterrent to, for instance, Muslim voters?

35

M. Gemmill 09.28.07 at 5:15 pm

I have always heard the same explanation as Isabel:

You don’t want to have polling on the Sabbath, and many voters may need to travel a significant distance to the polls. Having Tuesday be the day eliminates the need to travel on the Sabbath. It could just as easily be Wednesday or Thursday, but they picked Tuesday.

36

c.l. ball 09.28.07 at 5:57 pm

Why Tuesday? The best guess is that since Sunday was a day of rest, Monday would be used for travel.

Why Nov. — one argument is that it was a convenient time for farmers to travel to county seats since harvesting would be done, but the more probable reason was that prior legislation set the Constitutional mandated same-day of presidential electors giving their votes (set by legislation in Dec.) be within 34 days of the electors being chosen, according to the Congressional Globe debate. At the time, not all states chose electors by popular vote; the state legislatures did so in some states. Congress set a national date but let state’s change that date by legislation if they wished because some of those legislatures were not in session in Nov.

Maine held its presidential election in Sep. until 1960.

See
http://www.senate.gov/reference/resources/pdf/RL30527.pdf

37

Slocum 09.28.07 at 8:06 pm

Why are long lines seemingly a distinctly American voting endeavor? Thanks.

I don’t know about ‘distinctly’ but an unusual feature of the American voting system (like American government generally) is that running it is the responsibility of the local, not national government (even to the level of selecting the type of ballots / voting machines). You’ll tend to find long lines where local government is also inefficient in other ways. Personally, I’ve never waited in line more than a minute or two, but then I live in a relatively affluent community where the local government units work fairly well in general.

38

Sebastian Holsclaw 09.28.07 at 8:15 pm

“Why are long lines seemingly a distinctly American voting endeavor?”

My guess would be much more complicated ballots. In the US your average election might include voting for 20 or more different positions and in the larger states voting on multiple initiatives. It takes time even if you are prepared before you show up at the polls.

39

mollymooly 09.28.07 at 9:05 pm

How do those lever machines work? Do you pull the same lever 20 times for 20 ballots, or one-twist-fits-all? That’s got to take time. Probably speeds up the counting though, hanging chads excluded.

On a barely-related question, what’s the earliest a Presidential primary can legally be held? Could New Hampshire, say, hold its 2012 Primary next year?

40

Dr. Weevil 09.28.07 at 9:53 pm

Do Protestants celebrate All Souls’ Day? I read somewhere what seems a more plausible explanation for excluding November 1st, even when it’s a Tuesday. The claim was that shopkeepers and tavern owners and other small businessmen in early America did their accounting by the month and spent the first day of each month balancing the previous month’s books. That made November 1st a very inconvenient day for a large slice of the population.

As for putting elections in early November, not only is that late enough that the harvest would generally be in throughout the 13 states, it is early enough to make election-day blizzards unlikely even in New England, and also provides roughly 8 weeks from Election Day to the swearing-in of the new Congress in the first week of January. That’s an appropriate length of time for voting, counting, and certifying an election in a largeish sparsely-populated country where most communication still relied on horse-drawn vehicles and dirt roads. Also allowing time for the new members to get to Washington, of course.

41

Maria 09.28.07 at 10:40 pm

Um, because it’s not a holy day of any religion I’m aware of, as can not be said of Saturday or Sunday?

Well, Argentina is a mostly Catholic country – the president was required to be Roman Catholic up until 1994 – and elections are regularly held on Sundays. So I don’t think it should be such a big deal.

42

Maurice Meilleur 09.29.07 at 12:06 am

@41: Actually, inauguration used to be in March. It was moved to January by the 20th Amendment, ratified in 1933.

43

rm 09.29.07 at 12:13 am

Why are long lines seemingly a distinctly American voting endeavor?

. . . and because suppressing the poor and black votes is a venerable American art form? You can’t recount the lost votes of those who turn away, discouraged or needing to get back to work before they get fired.

We could have made a successful effort at making our elections work properly after the 2000 disaster, but why would anyone who matters have wanted to push that? Voting chaos turns away just the right voters, and it reinforces the narrative that “government is the problem.” And it gives a pretext for suppressing the vote even more with “fraud protection measures” like ID cards, caging letters, “challenging” voters when they sign in.

If we had a system responsive to the people’s interests, we’d get rid of Columbus Day and make voting day a national holiday.

44

ed 09.29.07 at 12:43 am

I also don’t like absentee or mail in ballots, because it is too easy to commit fraud using them. The system works well in Oregon, because Oregon is probably the most honestly run state in the US. I can imagine how many mail in ballots would be just ignored in, say, Illinois. You also have the problem of some voters making their decision before the election campaign has ended, and the ease with which party machines, which don’t exist in Oregon, can make sure that their supporters vote the right way.

Increase the number of polling sites, turn every embasssy and consulate into a polling location, and allow voters to vote at any polling site they want, using paper ballots. The ballots are then sent by courier to the counties where the voters actually live (yes, IDs showing addresses would have to be used) to be counted. Shut down the postal service for the day -it already doesn’t deliver on Sundays- for all mail except transporting ballots, and monitor it.

Also, all polling sites should open, everywhere in the country, at midnight EST and close midnight EST. Everyone gets 24 hours to vote. No one except slaves should then have a problem with voting before or after work. We can wait until Wednesday to get the results.

45

Brett Bellmore 09.29.07 at 2:31 am

“Why are long lines seemingly a distinctly American voting endeavor?”

“and because suppressing the poor and black votes is a venerable American art form? “

This explanation for long lines in predominantly poor and black areas has long puzzled me; Elections are, after all, administered locally in this country, said administration being controlled by whichever party predominates in a given area. IOW, elections are administered by Democrats in these areas! Why would Democrats want to suppress poor and black voters?

46

Tom T. 09.29.07 at 2:56 am

Re: 38 and 46. I voted in Arlington, Va. for several years. It’s a 60% white, invariably Democratic, textbook good-government polity. Polling lines would stretch for hours in high-profile elections.

Re: 27. My polling places don’t ask to see my registration card either. They have big books showing the voter rolls, and I simply give my name. Touch-screen voting involves poking a box on a computer screen; it’s no slower than using a pencil.

47

c.l. ball 09.29.07 at 3:17 am

Touch-screen voting involves poking a box on a computer screen; it’s no slower than using a pencil.

A touch-screen may not be slower than a pencil, but there are not as many touch-screen machines as there could be booths & pencils, so it takes longer to vote. Also, many of the touch-screen interfaces do not allow one to go back, whereas on paper, you can vote in the order that you wish.

48

omar shanks 09.29.07 at 3:45 am

#46: No, elections are not controlled locally. The funding and equipment comes from the state government, usually the Secretary of State. In many states, the SoS dictates the number and location of polling locations. And so in Kansas, e.g. there’s been a steady drop in the number of polling stations in Wichita and Kansas City, Kansas.

There’s usually a County Elections Board (or sometimes a County Clerk with some duties for elections), but that’s not “local” control. Some counties, especially in urban areas subject to voter suppression, the county comprises many wards and precincts; the county government is dominated by white Republicans in the relatively affluent suburbs. Even if the county government is controlled by minorities, they only get to work with what the state government supplies them.

So in Ohio and Florida, you have Republican Secretaries of State (usually also officials in the presidential campaigns) suppressing minority votes.

49

Lord Acton 09.29.07 at 4:53 am

Brett Bellmore ponders:

“Why would Democrats want to suppress poor and black voters?”

A great Chicago area tradition on election night is waiting for the final ‘few’ precincts to be counted. It is much easier to adjust the votes needed for victory at the END of election night than at the BEGINNING of election night.

Thus it becomes an easily documented excuse as to why the heavily machine-Democrat wards take longer to count than the other wards.

The Cook County machine not only runs the area, but it gets to count the votes. Todd Stroger is now in charge of that machine, which he inherited from his old man. That should remind you of the quote from J. Stalin “It’s not the people who vote that count. It’s the people who count the votes.”

fyi I didn’t bother to check snopes as to whether or not it is a “real” quote; it is accurate even if it fake.

50

Gar Lipow 09.29.07 at 5:29 am

Also when you are talking about the Democratic machine, they don’t want anyone moving the Democratic part too far left. For example, they would hate to see anyone support stuff as radical as that commie running France right now.

So actually a lot of Democrats are fine with suppressing the Black vote and people in working class neighborhoods and so forth.

51

abb1 09.29.07 at 8:51 am

50: It is much easier to adjust the votes needed for victory at the END of election night…

And this is what – to prevent the Republicans from winning national elections in Chicago? Is this the proposition?

52

JH 09.29.07 at 9:35 am

# 27 “You are registered virtually passively, rather than having to be terribly active about it”

But they don’t have a population register, do they? Isn’t it true they “prove” their addresses with utility bills, and the like?

53

Katherine 09.29.07 at 10:30 am

JH, it depends what you mean really. There is no population register no, but the letter regarding the electoral register comes to your address and all you have to do is confirm it or change it. You can do that online or by freephone as well as in person. You don’t need to go anywhere and prove yourself. I don’t know how the system of registration works in the US though, so it is difficult to compare without someone telling me how it does work

In terms of newly registering yourself when you move somewhere, the system has changed somewhat. There used to be a once a year registration, in October, so if you moved somewhere in November, you had to wait until the next October to get registered. That lead to me missing at least one election. However, there is now rolling registration. There are also regular door knocking exercised whereby people knock on doors to check on registration.

54

mollymooly 09.29.07 at 12:44 pm

There was a massive cleanup of the (otherwise passively-maintained) electoral registers in Ireland before the recent election; of c. 3 million names, several hundred thousand were believed to be dead or moved away, and several hundred thousand missing from their current abode. Not sure what impact this had, though Fianna Fail did better than expected, while Sinn Fein did worse; these are the two parties most rumoured to practise fake voting.

55

Lord Acton 09.29.07 at 3:28 pm

abb1 suggests:

“And this is what – to prevent the Republicans from winning national elections in Chicago? Is this the proposition?”

The local politicians here don’t really care a fig for national policies. The Cook County Democrat machine is, policy wise, to the right of the National Democrat party.

All the pols here in Illinois care about is … well … the money. Billions and Billions of dollars in Local and State revenue. And, then, whatever our Congressional Critters can extort, uh sorry, appropriate, from the National Treasury.

So what happens is a race to be last between the D’s up in North Eastern Illinois and the R’s in the rest of the State. That way they will know better how to count the votes they need.

Supposedly, Hizoner the First Mayor Daley stole the 1960 election for Kennedy. And Nixon wanted a recount. The R’s in charge of Illinois at the time begged Tricky Dick not to do it because they had stolen lots of votes for THEIR candidates. I can’t vouch for the truth of this story, but it sure does fit into Illinois Political History.

How many of your states’ Governor’s have been convicted of crimes and spent time in behind bars? I’m pretty sure Illinois wins that one with both D’s and R’s serving time first in the Governor’s house and then in the Jail House.

56

Wrye 09.29.07 at 6:02 pm

Molly@55,

I think the main effect of cleaning up rolls is to increase ‘voter turnout’. Certainly in Canada, the list of eligible voters in an area is never 100% up to date (though Elections Canada does its best) and contains X number of voters who are dead/moved but whose status hasn’t reached the list. I thus take stories about falling participation with a grain of salt–it all depends how recent the registers are in any given locality.

57

the Other Paul 09.29.07 at 7:09 pm

@40: The lever machines (if we’re thinking about the same kind of machine) work by having a bunch of rows of switches, with each column corresponding to a certain position/race. Each candidate has their own switch. For ballot initiatives or local budget votes, there’s a yes switch and a no switch.

To vote, you throw the switches that correspond to your votes and enter your votes into the machine’s record by pulling a big lever. (Pulling the lever also puts the switches back to their original position and opens the curtain on the voting booth.)

As you might guess, the machines are pretty expensive to maintain, especially since they’re both old and all-mechanical. As far as I know, they’re all supposed to be replaced in the near future, although that could end up being quite a while from now.

58

nick s 09.30.07 at 2:24 am

Well, Argentina is a mostly Catholic country – the president was required to be Roman Catholic up until 1994 – and elections are regularly held on Sundays.

Ah, but Catholics do Sundays differently. This can be seen in Ireland, where Sunday is for GAA and Saturday is for association football. Of course, in the Baptist South, Sundays are for church, bad food at a casual dining restaurant and falling asleep in front of the TV.

(Again, that’s an issue: can’t be having an election on an NFL day.)

An interesting distinction here: increased access to postal ballotting is considered a good thing in the US, following the example of Oregon; increased postal ballotting in the UK has been plagued by problems, not least ballot-stuffing and voting at home under compulsion. As ed says, what works in Oregon doesn’t necessarily translate to other states.

The big problem with American elections is the local supervision. A county with healthy property tax returns gets to buy lots of shiny vote machines. One with a tight budget gets to buy some WD-40 for the old machines. Throw in the political nature of the state and county supervisors in many places, and that’s another recipe for mess.

59

MikeN 09.30.07 at 4:25 am

Don’t know if it’s still that way, but in Canada your employer used to have to allow you at least three consecutive hours to vote when the polls were open (8 to 8 IIRC).

OTOH, the bars were closed until the balloting was over.

60

JH 09.30.07 at 5:57 am

Workdays are always problematic, and it’s hard to see what sense it makes telling people they have to vote on a day when everyone knows the majority are otherwise occupied.

The only sensible time to vote is the weekend, because that’s when people have time.

61

bad Jim 09.30.07 at 8:34 am

[FWIW, John Ciardi, because I like these lines concerning a recalcitrant student:]

Is that why you bring these sheepfaces on Tuesday?

They won’t do.
It’s three months’ work I want, and I’d sooner have it
from the brassiest lumpkin in pimpledom, but have it,
than all these martyred repentences from you.

62

Brett Bellmore 09.30.07 at 12:22 pm

“increased access to postal ballotting is considered a good thing in the US, following the example of Oregon; increased postal ballotting in the UK has been plagued by problems, not least ballot-stuffing and voting at home under compulsion.”

What makes you think it doesn’t work the same in the US? Ballot fraud is such a politicized issue in the US that I don’t think we really have any objective data on how often these absentee ballot abuses occur; Trying to find out is considered “voter harassment”, after all.

63

Matt Weiner 09.30.07 at 12:50 pm

I don’t think we really have any objective data on how often these absentee ballot abuses occur; Trying to find out is considered “voter harassment”, after all.

The insinuations here are a little confused. When Republicans pass voter ID requirements in the name of preventing ballot fraud, Democrats often accuse them of voter harassment. But these Republican efforts never focus on absentee ballots (how could they, short of requiring notarization?) even though absentee ballot fraud is much easier to carry out and much easier to do en masse. Absentee ballots also skew Republican.

That’s just one piece of evidence that these voter ID requirements are intended to discourage legitimate Democratic votes rather than to prevent fraud; if you really wanted to prevent fraud, you’d go after the massive absentee ballot security hole. As it is, in 2000 when Florida had a strict law about absentee ballot applications, Republicans colluded with election officials in two counties to alter signed application forms. They didn’t seem awfully concerned about gathering data there.

64

Brett Bellmore 09.30.07 at 2:27 pm

Matt, I’m referring to the occasional effort to contact people listed as having voted absentee, and ask them if they did in fact vote. Every time I’ve heard of that somebody set out to do this, they got shut down on the basis that they were engaging in ‘voter harassment’… as though it was harassment to simply ask somebody if they really did vote.

I don’t know how you’re supposed to detect somebody fraudulently casting absentee votes in somebody else’s name, without doing such a survey.

I’ll be upfront here: I don’t think people should be voting absentee, except in extraordinary circumstances. We have election monitors for a good reason, and absentee voting puts too much of the process beyond their view.

This might not matter if our elections were administered by some non-partisan body, but as we all know, election administration in this country is anything but non-partisan. The fox isn’t just in the hen-house, it’s been put in charge of guarding the hens.

There are alternate ways of accommodating people who would have trouble getting to the polling place on election day: Opening the polling places on a reduced basis for several days before the election, mobile “vote-mobiles” going to places like senior centers, things like that.

But what I’d really like to see is a wholesale reform of election administration, with the creation of an “election corps”, a volunteer institution of people who’d be randomly assigned to administer elections far from their homes. That would make the degree of collusion among election officials needed for effective ballot fraud essentially impossible.

But, of course, incumbents by definition having been elected under the existing system, under which most of the opportunities for ballot fraud are available to the party in power in an area, the incumbent’s party, have little incentive to reform the system that put them in power, and keeps them there.

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Slocum 09.30.07 at 4:37 pm

The funding and equipment comes from the state government, usually the Secretary of State.

That was changed here (in Michigan) only very recently. See for example:

“The State of Michigan has implemented a statewide, uniform optical scan voting system through federal grant funds in order to comply with the new HAVA (Help America Vote Act) laws. The City of Farmington Hills received new M-100 tabulating equipment to replace the optical scan units the city purchased 16 years ago. This new equipment was used for the first time for our November 8, 2005 City General Election.”

http://www.ci.farmington-hills.mi.us/Services/CityClerk/ElectionAndVotingInformation/VotingEquip.asp

Notice that until two years ago, the voting equipment was locally selected and purchased. And now even though the equipment is uniform state wide, the polling stations are still staffed and operated by local governments.

Not long ago (less than 10 years ago) in Ann Arbor, we still had the old voting booths with the curtains, mechanical levers and ‘cha-ching’ sound. Which I kind of miss — it was much more theatrical than just filling in a space with a black felt tip marker.

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MR. Bill 09.30.07 at 8:56 pm

“Do you want it good or do you want it Tuesday?”- G.S. Kaufman

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Matt Weiner 09.30.07 at 9:19 pm

to the occasional effort to contact people listed as having voted absentee, and ask them if they did in fact vote

Truth be told, I’d never heard of any such effort. Anyway, let I’ll let my comment stand as a reminder to everyone else that what you’re talking about is orthogonal to the typical voter fraud discussion, which doesn’t concern absentee ballots.

About your proposals, holding the polls open for a while seems like a pretty good idea to me (they do that in Texas), but I think the vote-mobile idea would be subject to severe regulatory capture when you determined where it went.

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mollymooly 09.30.07 at 11:22 pm

This can be seen in Ireland, where Sunday is for GAA and Saturday is for association football.
Only in Norn Iron, where the association was long dominated by Protestants. In the Republic, League of Ireland soccer was on Sundays, partly to avoid clashing with the English league on Saturdays. Now that the English play on Sunday as well as Saturday, the Irish play on Fridays, and in summer instead of winter.

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bad Jim 10.01.07 at 8:53 am

Hello, Ruby Tuesday afternoon.

We Yanks call our flag “the red, white and blue” not because we’re Dutch, but because a line ending in “blue” is easy to rhyme and, ending in a vowel, easy to sing. Contrast “It’s fun to shred/the blue white and red.” Sure, “d” is voiced, but when prolonged it sounds at best like a dial tone or a damaged CD.

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richard 10.01.07 at 12:56 pm

bad jim – are you in the right thread?
Euphony aside, you are Dutch, to the core. The US has been in denial about this since its inception, but really, that’s where you get your capitalism, Calvinism and pragmatism from, although somehow the frugality didn’t carry across. I even see Dutch flags all over the country – usually with the word “open” across the white part (which is the most Dutch thing of all).

Come to think of it, that may also be where the electoral system comes from: it has a sort of 17th century tortured logic to it.

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christine 10.01.07 at 1:54 pm

Hard to believe that no-one has mentioned the obvious advantage of Saturday over all other days, including Sunday: best time for election-night parties.

Of course, this argument works better in a system like Australia’s where you’ve got preferences to distribute than in a first past the post system, where results are often known within an hour or so of polls closing. Boring! No decent arguments/resentments of the guys who are winning when your side is losing really get a chance to develop in that time.

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SamChevre 10.01.07 at 2:05 pm

I think the reason is simple; in 1789, a Tuesday in November was the most reasonable time (good weather, not busy for farmworkers, enough time to travel to town, no conflict with religious obligations.) Since it’s in the Constitution, it’s hard to change; nobody has bothered.

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c. l. ball 10.01.07 at 6:09 pm

to the occasional effort to contact people listed as having voted absentee, and ask them if they did in fact vote

Truth be told, I’d never heard of any such effort

Then you’ve never been to Iowa. I was an independent backing Kerry in 2004. The Democratic Party was trying to get more people to vote absentee, which can be done on demand in Iowa, in order to make sure people did vote. Party voluteers would call registered Dems to ask if they wanted an absentee ballot, and fill out the official form for them and have another volunteer to take to them and have them sign and mail to the county auditor.

After the Dem presumably had received the ballot, volunteers would again call to see if they had mailed their ballot. Volunteers trained by the state can collect the absentee ballots from the voters and deliver them to county auditors! The Republicans did the same thing, only more effectively.

Iowa even has a receipt on the absentee ballot for politcal parties to use to keep track of votes. See
http://www.sos.state.ia.us/PDFS/AbsenteeBallotApp2002.pdf

The record of whether you have voted is public information. In Iowa, all parties can monitor the voter rolls the day of elections to see which registered voters have voted and which ones have not. The Dems (and GOP too I presume) would then see which registered Dems in various precincts had not voted and send voluteers out to remind them to vote.

Unfortunately for Dems in 2004, their record keeping in Iowa sucked and was not linked in real-time. Most people on a follow-up list that I was given on election night had voted — by absentee ballot — but so many had done so that auditors offices could not update the info fast enough, and the Dems could not update their internal records fast enough, so many volunteers were chasing after people who had voted months ago. In short, the Dems created a system that made it harder for them to monitor how many votes they had.

I had noted that this might be a problem when they were organizing (heck, anyone who has read any organizational theory could have figured this out; I’m no genius) but was smugly told not to worry. Another guy in IC did the same w/ similar dismissals.

Moreover, if someone ordered a ballot and then lost it, they would have to vote by a provisional ballot since you cannot decide after ordering the absentee ballot to instead show up at election site instead, running the risk that they would end up not voting or having their vote challenged.

While PalmPilots and fancy databases might have been used by some groups before the caucuses, that technology was not around in Iowa — a battleground state that was lost to Bush — after the caucuses.

I never heard of calling people to ask if they had voted being challenged as voter harassment though I would personally find it annoying and probably tell the caller to lick salt, but it is not illegal.

While it may seem reasonable that the locally dominant party would ensure that their locals can vote, in fact many hacks get put in charge of this stuff and they suffer from budget constraints as well. In Des Moines in 2006, which had a Democratic auditor, heavily Democratic areas had the voting locations in some cases located outside the residential ward the location was supposed to serve while another ward had the their location inside the other’s ward. You might say: hey, shouldn’t the locations be switched so each group has access to the closer ward? Well, you would if you read CT but not if you were a Democratic managing elections in Polk County.

Democrats need to face up to the fact that the Republicans in general have much better organization and record-keeping than the Democrats do.

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Matt Weiner 10.01.07 at 8:22 pm

Then you’ve never been to Iowa.

Have too! I drove through it twice!

Seriously, I think what you’re describing is different from what Brett was talking about — I think he’s talking about, after the election, calling people who are listed as already having voted absentee and asking them “Was it really you who sent in the ballot?” Whereas, if I’m not mistaken, you’re talking about calling people who (as far as you know) aren’t listed as having sent in their absentee ballots and saying, “Hey! Send that ballot in!”

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charless (in tallahassee) 10.02.07 at 1:57 am

omar@#49 – Here in Florida, each of the 67 counties elects a “Supervisor of Elections”; that position is a “Constitutional Office”, meaning that office is mandated by the Florida Constitution. The office is non-partisan, although many supervisors are personally registered with a particular political party.

Elections in Florida are controlled locally: the County, i.e. taxpayers, funds the supervisor’s office; the supervisor’s office specifies the voting precinct boundaries, based on US Census demographic data. After 2000 some State funds, mainly for election equipment, has additionally been available to counties.

The Florida Capital is in Tallahassee, and Tallahassee is a city in Leon County; in 1992 the Leon County Supervisor of Elections changed to optical scanning voting equipment. The paper ballots are marked by voters and then scanned into the voting machine, which is about the size of a small washing machine. The paper ballots (8.5″x11″, close to A4) are retained in machine, and can be examined and recounted if needed. The process works fine.

I’m a die-hard yellow-dog democrat (except for Charlie Crist and Charles Bronson), but I’ve also read Katherine Harris’s book: I don’t like what she did, but she had every legal right to do it.

Your claim that in Florida the Republican Secretaries of State suppress minority votes is poppycock, in the sense of its original meaning!

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Brett Bellmore 10.02.07 at 7:25 pm

“I think he’s talking about, after the election, calling people who are listed as already having voted absentee and asking them “Was it really you who sent in the ballot?””

Precisely. It’s an after the fact way of looking for (Some kinds of) absentee ballot fraud. And every time I’ve heard of somebody doing it, they got shut down on the basis that they were engaged in “voter harassment”.

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abb1 10.03.07 at 1:01 pm

Why Tuesday?

’cause Sunday is gloomy, hours are slumberless and the shadows I live with are numberless.

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