Newt Gingrich didn’t have an answer, and it “stumped” Rick Santorum.
The question is simple: Why do Americans cast their ballots on Tuesday? In other words, why are elections held in the middle of the week when many — especially lower income people — can’t make it to the polls?
“In 2012, there is absolutely no good reason whatsoever to be voting on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November,” Jacob Soboroff tells Michel Martin, host of NPR’s Tell Me More.
Soboroff is the executive director of the nonpartisan organization Why Tuesday?, which, as you might guess, advocates for a change as a way to increase voter turnout. The group was founded by people from across the political spectrum, including civil rights activist and former U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young; and Norman Ornstein, a resident scholar at the conservative think tank the American Enterprise Institute.
In a recent video, Soboroff put the “why Tuesday?” question to presidential candidates Gingrich and Santorum, just as he had to the 2008 contenders. Few knew the reason, which Soboroff says goes all the way back to the nation’s farming founding fathers.
“In 1845, Tuesday was the most convenient day,” he says. It could take a day or longer for farmers to get to the county seat to vote and Tuesday allowed them this time without interfering with the Sabbath day or Wednesday, which was market day.
“So, by process of elimination, Tuesday it was,” Soboroff says.
Tuesday Or Bust?
But he thinks the weekday election isn’t all that convenient anymore — especially since only 64 percent of citizens age 18 and older casted a ballot in the last presidential election.
The voting rates among lower income Americans are even starker. Based on 2010 voter turnout, the Census Bureau found that people from families that earned more than $100,000 were twice as likely to vote as those whose household income was less than $20,000.
Soboroff says that for single parents, students and those who work more than one job, voting on Tuesday can be a challenge. Being “too busy” is often cited as the most common reason for not voting, and 27 percent claimed they were in 2010.
It can be “Tuesday or bust,” for would-be voters in 14 states that don’t allow for early or absentee voting, Soboroff tells Martin.
The U.S. ranked 138th in terms of average voter turnout between 1945 and 2001, according to report by the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance. Although some countries might inflate numbers or coerce voters to cast ballots, it’s worthwhile to note that the U.S. has historically had the lowest turnout out of all G8 countries — many of which hold elections on weekends or public holidays.
So why stick with Election Tuesday?
Open To Change?
Rick Santorum said, “I’m certainly not wedded to Tuesday. I don’t think there’s anything magical about Tuesday.” Other government officials — Republican and Democrat — have also expressed openness to change.
In 2009, democratic Congressman Steve Israel of New York introduced the Weekend Voting Act. The bill, which did not see a vote, called for elections to take place on the first Saturday and Sunday after the first Friday in November.
But Soboroff seems to think the reason for Tuesday elections goes beyond tradition.
At the end of a video in which he tracked down candidates vying for the Republican nomination in Iowa, he concluded, “The future, literally of these guys’ lives depends on American democracy, do they want to improve it, or stick with it just the way it is so that they can become president and live out their dream?”