A History of Voting in the United States

It’s Election Day here in the United States! It falls on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. Well, maybe you’ve wondered WHY that date. Or maybe you’ve been curious about who has and how they got the right to vote. Fear not! I have the answers to those questions.

Why is Election Day in November?

In the early 1800s, most of the American people were farmers. As a result, much of the time and calendar was set around farming schedule. (That’s why American schools start in August/September). November was chosen because it was right between the autumn harvest and the cold weather. Farmers would be less busy and could afford the time to go to town.

Why is Election Day the First Tuesday after the First Monday?

They didn’t choose November 1st because of two reasons. First, November 1st is All Saints Day, where certain Christians celebrates the saints of the church and feast. Lawmakers wanted to make sure they gave time for that holiday. Second, a lot of people would settle their books and accounts on the first of the month (That’s still when my rent is due). We’re fortunate now to have online ways to pay, but farmers would have to go to town or to wherever to make sure their accounts were settled.

While the United States has no official religion, Christianity is the largest religion and has been since the first Europeans came to settle. Christianity sets most of its services on Sunday. When lawmakers were settling on a day for voting, they immediately removed Sunday from consideration. While land was still being settled by farmers, many people did not live close to towns or their neighbors. Congress proposed a full day to travel just to be safe. This then excluded both Saturday and Monday as well. Lawmakers decided Tuesday, that way those who had to travel could set out on Monday and still be back.

Nowadays, it remains a Tuesday because there would probably be less people who could work the polls on the weekends due to other commitments and conflicts. So it stays on the Tuesday.

History of Voting Rights

Voting rights have a long history of being adjusted over time. In the first presidential election, voter eligibility was only for male white landowners. States started to remove the property ownership in 1792, but it took all the way until 1856 to be fully removed. Another early exclusion was religion. Voters had to take a religion test to vote until 1828, when Maryland allowed Jewish men to vote. Women were barred from the polls as were free African Americans who did not own property. Enslaved people were not even considered to be eligible to vote.

After the Civil War, the United States Government passed the 15th Amendment to the Constitution, which states that no man could be excluded from voting based on race. However, this did not solve the problem. In many states, laws referred to as Jim Crow laws were passed, which made it extremely difficult for African Americans to vote. This included grandfather clauses (grandfather had to be born in this country), literacy tests, and severe poll taxes. But they weren’t the only group disenfranchised. Women still couldn’t vote. Chinese immigrants were banned from entering the country and becoming citizens in 1882, which also led to them not being able to vote.

Women began to push for the vote in the mid-1800s. Wyoming let women vote in 1890, and fifteen states allowed women the vote by 1918. In 1920, the 19th Amendment passed, officially granting women the right to vote. Native Americans followed suit in 1957.

As the years passed, the main groups still unable to vote were African Americans and other people of color and lower income status. As mentioned, although the 15th Amendment made it illegal to discriminate by color, many states and cities still found ways to inconvenience them. Finally, in 1964, the 24th Amendment was passed, which made poll taxes for any election both illegal and unconstitutional. The next year, 1965, a large group of black protestors marched from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. They were attacked brutally by the police, with the day becoming known as “Bloody Sunday.” But they weren’t deterred. Many men and women bravely marched and made it to the capital of Montgomery. These marches drew national attention. On August 6, 1965, the Voting Rights Act was passed. This cut out many of the restrictions on voting and required states to finally change their Jim Crow policies. Just a few years later, in 1971, the 26th Amendment was passed, which lowered the legal voting age from 21 to 18.

The time passed, and the Voting Rights Act passed in 1965 has been expanded and improved to help people with other disabilities and limitations, including language and mobility issues. Voting still remains a voluntary right in the United States. It has been a long, hard journey to get to this point, and it is so important to have your voice out there and working to make a difference. So if you haven’t already, make sure you’re voting!


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