|2016 date November 8 (Details)|
2018 date November 6 (Details)
|2017 date November 7 (Details)|
|Type Day for the election of public officials in the United States|
Celebrations Exercising civic duty, voting for elected officials, visiting polling precincts
Date The Tuesday after the first Monday of November
In the United States, Election Day is the day set by law for the general elections of federal public officials. It is statutorily set as "the Tuesday next after the first Monday in the month of November" or "the first Tuesday after November 1". The earliest possible date is November 2, and the latest possible date is November 8 (as it was for the 2016 election).
For federal offices (President, Vice President, and United States Congress), Election Day occurs only in even-numbered years. Presidential elections are held every four years, in years divisible by four, in which electors for President and Vice President are chosen according to the method determined by each state. Elections to the United States House of Representatives and the United States Senate are held every two years; all Representatives are elected to serve two-year terms and are up for election every two years, while Senators serve six-year terms, staggered so that one third of Senators are elected in any given general election. General elections in which presidential candidates are not on the ballot are referred to as midterm elections. Terms for those elected begin in January the following year; the President and Vice President are inaugurated ("sworn in") on Inauguration Day, which is usually on January 20.
Many state and local government offices are also elected on Election Day as a matter of convenience and cost saving, although a handful of states hold elections for state offices (such as governor) during odd-numbered "off years", or during other even-numbered "midterm years", and may hold special elections for offices that have become vacant. Congress has mandated a uniform date for presidential (3 U.S.C. § 1) and congressional (2 U.S.C. § 1 and 2 U.S.C. § 7) elections, though early voting is nonetheless authorized in many states.
Election Day is a civic holiday in some states, including Delaware, Hawaii, Kentucky, Montana, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, West Virginia, and the territory of Puerto Rico. Some other states require that workers be permitted to take time off with pay. California Elections Code Section 14000 provides that employees otherwise unable to vote must be allowed two hours off with pay, at the beginning or end of a shift. A federal holiday, Democracy Day, to coincide with Election Day has been unsuccessfully proposed. Other movements in the IT and automotive industries encourage employers to voluntarily give their employees paid time off on Election Day.
No federal law regulated the 1788 federal election. In 1792, federal law permitted each state to conduct presidential elections in the state (i.e., to choose their electors) at any time in a 34-day period before the first Wednesday of December, which was the day set for the meeting of the electors of the U.S. president and vice-president (the Electoral College), in their respective states. This gave each state some flexibility in the holding of their elections. An election date in November was seen as convenient because the harvest would have been completed (important in an agrarian society) and the winter-like storms would not yet have begun in earnest (especially an advantage in the days before paved roads and snowplows). However, in this arrangement the states that voted later could be influenced by a candidate's victories in the states that voted earlier, a problem later exacerbated by improved communications via train and telegraph. In close elections, the states that voted last might well determine the outcome.
A uniform date for choosing presidential electors was instituted by the Congress in 1845. Many theories have been advanced as to why the Congress settled on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. The actual reasons, as shown in records of Congressional debate on the bill in December 1844, were fairly prosaic. The bill initially set the day for choosing presidential electors on "the first Tuesday in November," in years divisible by four (1848, 1852, etc.). But it was pointed out that in some years the period between the first Tuesday in November and the first Wednesday in December (when the electors are required to meet in their state capitals to vote) would be more than 34 days, in violation of the existing Electoral College law. So, the bill was reworded to move the date for choosing presidential electors to the Tuesday after the first Monday in November, a date scheme already used in New York. The period between Election Day and the first Wednesday in December is always 29 days. The effect of the change was to make November 2 the earliest day on which Election Day may fall.
In 1845, the United States was largely an agrarian society. Farmers often needed a full day to travel by horse-drawn vehicles to the county seat to vote. Tuesday was established as election day because it did not interfere with the Biblical Sabbath or with market day, which was on Wednesday in many towns.
In modern times, the United States is no longer primarily an agrarian society, and Tuesday is now normally a work day throughout the country with most voters working on that day. This has led activists to object to Election Day being on a Tuesday on the grounds that it decreases voter turnout. They advocate either making Election Day a federal holiday or allowing voters to cast their ballots over two or more days. Activists also encourage workplaces to allow their employees paid time off in lieu of such mandates and encourage voters to make use of early voting and postal voting facilities when available and convenient.
Several commentators have noted the irony of Election Day being a regular working day, while Veterans Day, which typically falls on November 11, is a federal holiday. Many have called for the holidays to be merged, so citizens can have a day off to vote. This would be seen as a way to honor veterans by exercising the democratic right to vote.
Holiday and paid leave
Delaware, Hawaii, Kentucky, Montana, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, West Virginia, and the territory of Puerto Rico have declared Election Day a civic holiday. Some other states require that workers be permitted to take time off from employment without loss of pay. California Elections Code Section 14000 and New York State Election Law provide that employees without sufficient time to vote must be allowed two hours off with pay, at the beginning or end of a shift. Democracy Day, a planned federal holiday to coincide with Election Day, was unsuccessfully proposed in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate in 2005. It was later reintroduced in the Senate in 2014 and has not been enacted.
Some employers allow their employees to come in late or leave early on Election Day to allow them an opportunity to get to their precinct and vote. The United Auto Workers union has negotiated making Election Day a holiday for workers of U.S. domestic auto manufacturers. In July 2016, venture capitalist Hunter Walk began encouraging tech companies to give their employees time off to vote on Election Day. Walk's campaign evolved into a website, TakeOffElectionDay.com, which now highlights the 140+ tech companies (including Spotify, Wikimedia Foundation, Autodesk, and Square, Inc.) that are giving their employees time to vote on Election Day.
Early and postal voting
Most states allow for early voting, allowing voters to cast ballots before the Election Day. Early voting periods vary from 4 to 50 days prior to Election Day. Unconditional early voting in person is allowed in 32 states and in D.C. Also, most states have some kind of absentee ballot system. Unconditional absentee voting by mail is allowed in 27 states and D.C., and with an excuse in another 21 states. Unconditional permanent absentee voting is allowed in 7 states and in D.C.
In Colorado, Oregon and Washington State all major elections are by postal voting, with ballot papers sent to voters several weeks before Election Day. In Colorado and Oregon, all postal votes must be received by a set time on Election Day, as is common with absentee ballots in most states (except overseas military ballots, which receive more time by federal law). Washington State requires postal votes be postmarked by Election Day. For the 2008 presidential election, 32% of votes were early votes.
Elected offices of municipalities, counties (in most states), and other local entities (such as school boards and other special-purpose districts) have their elections subject to rules of their state, and in some states, they vary according to choices of the jurisdiction in question. For instance, in Connecticut, all towns, cities, and boroughs hold elections in every odd-numbered year, but as of 2004, 16 have them on the first Monday in May, while the other 153 are on Election Day. In Massachusetts, the 50 cities are required to hold their elections on Election Day, but the 301 towns may choose any date, and most have traditionally held their elections in early spring, after the last snowfall.