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On the Trail / BURNING QUESTIONS

Why vote on Tuesdays?

July 20, 2008|Kate Linthicum

Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) recently wandered around Capitol Hill armed with a video camera and a question: Why do we vote on Tuesdays?

"Um. . . . "

That was the response from most people -- even lawmakers.

"Don't be embarrassed if you don't know the answer," Israel reassured his perplexed interviewees. "Hardly anybody does, including most members of Congress."

Israel made the video to push the Weekend Voting Act, legislation he introduced last month that would switch the days on which federal elections are held from Tuesdays to Saturdays and Sundays, when, presumably, more people would be able to cast ballots.

The clip is posted at Why Tuesday?, a website dedicated to increasing voter turnout.

Jacob Soboroff, the site's director (and the son of former Los Angeles mayoral candidate Steve Soboroff), has crisscrossed the country on behalf of Why Tuesday?, posting video interviews with many big-name politicians, including Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain.

Obama said he would support a shift to weekend voting. McCain didn't take a stance on that issue, but promised Soboroff that he would do anything to increase voter participation.

But when asked if he thought an alternate idea -- declaring a national voting holiday -- would work, McCain was skeptical.

"I'm not sure that people wouldn't just go fishing," he said.

Perhaps luckily for them, neither Obama nor McCain was asked the question that Israel posed to tourists and lawmakers in his video: Why Tuesday?

It turns out that Congress chose Tuesday for a voting day in 1845 to make the process easier for citizens of an agrarian society.

Back then, farmers needed to vote on a day that wouldn't interfere with the three-day Sabbath or Wednesday, which was market day.

Today, according to Soboroff, 1 in 4 people who don't vote say it's because weekdays are inconvenient.

-- Kate Linthicum

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