Why Super Tuesday?

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February 28, 2012; Source: TED

At NPQ, we’re interested in promoting an active an engaged democracy, and clearly that’s only possible with widespread voter participation in our elections. A multitude of nonprofits have spent countless hours and dollars trying to address the issue of low voter turnout, but as we sort through the post-Super Tuesday political spin and analysis, a nonprofit organization founded in 2005 reminds us that there is one possible solution that isn’t all that complicated: change the day on which we vote.

Why Tuesday? is a non-partisan 501(c)(3) organization that suggests that weekend voting could help drive more voter participation in American elections. According to its website, the group has been an inspiration behind the Weekend Voting Act in Congress, the Saturday Voting Act in San Francisco (which passed) and a study by the U.S. Government Accounting Office on the prospects of voting on the weekend nationwide. The organization’s executive director, Jacob Soboroff, recently spoke at a TED conference, TEDActive 2012, to pitch this idea.

Critics of such a proposal may argue that weekend voting is unnecessary in an age of absentee ballots, but this line of thought fails to take into account the power of the media frenzy surrounding election day in potentially mobilizing people—or even just reminding them—to get to the polls at a time when they are more likely to be able to do so. In the U.S., it isn’t hard to imagine other critics raising religious objections about voting on a day some people dedicate to pious devotion. Nonetheless, in Europe, most countries hold their parliamentary elections on Sundays despite the existence of religious constituencies that might be aggrieved with the election’s intrusion on their day of worship.

So why do we vote on Tuesdays, anyhow? Why Tuesday? explains: “In 1845, before Florida, California, and Texas were states or slavery had been abolished, Congress needed to pick a time for Americans to vote. We were an agrarian society. We traveled by horse and buggy. Farmers needed a day to get to the county seat, a day to vote, and a day to get back, without interfering with the three days of worship. So that left Tuesday and Wednesday, but Wednesday was market day. So, Tuesday it was.”

In our modern society, can anyone defend this rationale—or offer a better one—for continuing to hold elections on Tuesdays? –Mike Keefe-Feldman