General Election – First Tuesday after the First Monday in November
Do you know why we have elections on this day ever four years for President and every two years for one third of the Senator and all of the House members? A 1792 federal law tied it to the meeting of electors of the Electoral College, and in 1845 a federal law designated the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. Why not just the first Tuesday? That would have allowed it to sometimes fall on November 1, or All Saints Day, a strong Catholic holiday at that time. Now, it can never be on November 1.
Does it seem strange to you the we stick to this date and conventions? For that matter, why do we hang onto the Electoral College? Perhaps that is another post for another time, closer to 2016 maybe.
How Voting Has and Has Not Changed
If you live in a state like Washington, where I do, something has disappeared – public voting places. Instead, since every registered voter is mailed a ballot, everyone’s home has become a voting place. Even more important is that voting hours extend for several weeks. We not only get a ballot in the mail but a comprehensive voting guide that provides information on the candidates and voter initiates. Not too shabby.
But for a great many of you, voting in the general election is pretty much the same as it was when I was growing up, and likely for my dad, grandfather and even older generations when they were growing up. You go to a precinct voting place, get your name checked against the registration rolls, wait in line, probably, until a voting booth becomes available. The earliest voting I did was inside a curtain-closed booth. The ballot was hung like a painting in an art galley, and I chose candidates by pulling down on a small lever next to their name. After selecting all of the candidates, there was a larger lever to pull. It magically recorded my votes and opened the curtain after first returning all the smaller levers to their un-voted positions.
I found out later that other places, states, used different sorts of ballots. In some places, the booth was an enclosed area where you took a paper ballot and marked with a pen of some sort your choices. When finished, you folded it up, exited the booth, and dropped it into the ballot box.
Anyone who lived though the 2000 general election remembers all too well that Florida used a punch card system. The Hollerith 80 card had small rectangular areas ready to be punched out with a stylus to indicate a voting choice. The idea was that counting these ballots was faster and easier with punch card reading equipment rather than human counters. The result of course was that many human counters counted and recounted while others pondered hanging chad. Was that just barely over a decade ago?
In other states, early voting is permitted whether in person or by mail. You have to be proactive about it. And in some states, voter ID laws have taken effect in which a voter has to present a valid form of government issued ID. In Texas, for example, a concealed weapons carry permit is a valid ID but a student ID from a state school is not.
If You Haven’t Voted Yet, Vote Tomorrow
I would love to tell you who to vote for, but I won’t. First, I couldn’t possibly know enough about all the local candidates across the country to create a comprehensive list that would be knowledge and fact based. Second, you probably wouldn’t heed my instructions anyway. Third, there are enough whacky candidates and so much obfuscation that choosing the best candidate is really, really tough.
No matter, you should and must vote. It is not just something you have a right to do, but it should be your duty and privilege to vote. In each and every election you can.
Since 1960, the percentage of eligible voters who cast mid-term ballots has been between 10% and 15% less than those who voted in presidential elections. And the percentage of actual voters has been gradually declining in both voting years to be about 10% less now than in the 1960s. To put sobering numbers on it, only about 1 in 3 eligible voters participate in mid-term years.
Even more appalling information comes from an analysis of those who do vote. A disproportionate number of senior votes do vote and younger voters do not. Maybe that corresponds to the higher percentage of 1960s voters; they are now seniors. They just don’t vote the same way now as they seemed to back then.
What Should You Do Before You Vote?
I don’t mean eating a healthy breakfast or not forgetting to zip your pants. Study the candidates and their positions and be an informed voter. Here are some dos and don’t s.
- DO try and attend an event where candidates speak. Just remember that when the events are sponsored by the candidates themselves or fund raisers for them, they are generally well orchestrated.
- DON”T single source your news coverage on the candidates and issues. If you only watch Fox News or MSNBC or their brethren on cable or talk radio, you are following other well orchestrated media events.
- DO try and have conversations with those around you, but strive for a wide and diverse set of opinions and conversations. Ask questions as to why people feel about candidates and issues as they do and look for trends and patterns.
- DON’T vote for someone just because of their party affiliation. Make sure their views and legislative plans meet your own goals and objectives.
- DO consider a broad range of consequences were the candidate receiving your vote to be elected. Who is backing them financially and what might those backers want in return once the candidate is in office?
- DON’T give in to voting on some vague whim or feeling. If someone castrated hogs rowing up or threatened to throw a reporter off a balcony for asking about an upcoming trial for corruption, does that make them a good choice? In other words are their ads informative or bunk?
I leave out the questions about money in our politics because the message today is simply, please vote.
Money in politics is definitely on the future list of topics.