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Election Day in the United States

Election Day in the United States of America is the Tuesday following the first Monday in November. It can fall on or between November 2 and November 8. It is the day when popular ballots are held to select public officials. These include national, state and local government representatives at all levels up to the president.

Is Election Day a Public Holiday?

Election Day is a public holiday in 14 states, where it is a day off for the general population, and schools and most businesses are closed.

Many people in the United States vote on Election Day.
Many people in the United States vote on Election Day.
©iStockphoto.com/Igor Smichkov

What Do People Do?

On Election Day, citizens of the United States of America can vote by popular ballot for candidates for public offices at local, state and national levels. In even numbered years, federal elections are always held. In years divisible by four, presidential elections are always held. Elections for local and state officials may be held in odd or even-numbered years, depending on local and state laws.

The way in which people vote depends on the state in which they live. In Oregon, all votes are cast by post and all votes have to be received at a given time on Election Day. In the state of Washington, nearly all people vote by post and the envelopes containing the voting papers have to be postmarked with the date of Election Day. In other states, people vote at voting stations, where long queues can form.

Public Life

Election Day is not a federal holiday, but it is a yearly or biennial holiday in some states (see table below article), including:

  • Delaware
  • Hawaii
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Michigan
  • Montana
  • West Virginia

Employees in some states have the legal right to have time off work to vote, and in some cases, without losing any pay.

Background

In 1792, a law was passed allowing each of the states to conduct presidential elections at any point in the 34 days before the first Wednesday in December. This was the date when the meetings of the Electors of the U.S. president and vice-president, known as the Electoral Colleges, were held in each state. A date in November or early December was preferable because the harvest would have been finished, but the most severe winter storms would not have begun.

As long distance communication improved and became quicker with the advent of trains and telegraphs, allowing each state to conduct its elections at any point in a period of more than a month, became outdated. The results of the elections that were announced earliest could influence the outcomes of elections held later in the permitted period.

In 1845, the United States Congress chose a single date for all national elections in all states. The first Tuesday after the first Monday in November was chosen so that there would never be more than 34 days between Election Day and the first Wednesday in December. Election Day is held on a Tuesday so that voters will not have to vote or travel on Sunday. This was an important consideration at the time when the laws were written and is still so in some Christian communities in the United States.

In 2008, Barack Obama became the first African-American to be elected as president of the United States, 45 years after Martin Luther King Jr’s speech about equal opportunities. On Inauguration Day, which is on January 20 every four years, the president and vice-president of the United States of America are sworn in and take office.

Election Day Observances

YearWeekdayDateNameHoliday TypeArea
2010TueNov 2Election DayState holiday12 states
2012TueNov 6Election DayObservance 
2012TueNov 6Election DayState holiday12 states
2014TueNov 4Election DayState holiday15 states
2015TueNov 3Election DayState holidayIndiana, New York
2016TueNov 8Election DayState holiday14 states
2016TueNov 8Election DayObservance 
2017TueNov 7Election DayState holidayNew Jersey, Virginia
2018TueNov 6Election DayState holiday14 states
2020TueNov 3Election DayState holiday14 states
2020TueNov 3Election DayObservance 

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