By: Nick Santangelo

Election Day is here! While it might be tempting to turn your attention to the 2020 presidential election, several important races are taking place right now. Whether you’re registered to vote in Philadelphia or somewhere else, the College of Liberal Arts (CLA) urges you to get informed and get to the polls. Pennsylvania residents can check out the Committee of Seventy’s website to review their ballot, and Philadelphia residents can find their voting place here.

But before you head out to the polls, you might still have a few questions about why there’s an election today, what’s unique about Pennsylvania elections and how current events might shape next year’s presidential election.

Why Is Election Day on a Tuesday?

“The reason elections are in November and on Tuesdays dates back to our agrarian past,” explains History Professor Ralph Young. “More than 200 years ago, the harvest was in by November and so farmers had more time, and it was decided Tuesday was the optimum date because Wednesday was always market day, and Monday was out because it would mean people would have to travel on Sunday—and we're talking about horse-and-buggy days.”

In recent years, there’s been a push by some to move Election Day to a weekend, make it a national holiday of its own or combine it with Veteran’s Day and make that day a national holiday. Unfortunately, Dr. Young says that movement hasn’t made much progress due to opposition forces that wish to limit access to the polls. Many working adults, especially those with families and/or unpredictable hours, have difficulty voting on a Tuesday. That makes it all the more important that CLA students find time to get to the polls and make their voices heard.

Although we’ll never know for certain, it’s possible that past Election Day results could have turned out different had voting taken place on a weekend or holiday. But, in Dr. Young’s view, the most recent presidential election isn’t the one most likely to have been affected by this change.

“The 2000 election probably would have had a different result because it hinged primarily Florida,” says Dr. Young. “Just that one state, if more people had been able to vote, could very well have swung the election the other way. Some people would argue that the same would be the case for the 2016 election. But I'm not so sure about that since that election hinged on four states, not just the one.”

How Do Partisan and Political Actions Affect Voting?

Many Americans also view the practice known as partisan gerrymandering (the practice of drawing up voting district maps to favor one of the two major parties over the other) as an Election Day impediment. Democrats and Republicans have recently fought over this issue in states like North Carolina and Wisconsin as well as here in Pennsylvania.

“Statistics show that in most of the congressional elections over the past couple of decades, the total Democratic/Republican percentages for the whole state was higher for Democrats, yet Republicans held the majority of the seats. For example, in the 2012 election, Democrats won 50.28 percent of the votes, Republicans 48.77 percent. Yet, the congressional delegation sent to Washington was 13 Republicans and five Democrats.”

With Democrats and Republicans in Harrisburg unable to agree on the issue last year, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court created a new map that it believes to be “much more competitive.”

Meanwhile, looking at the national stage, voters and pundits alike are wondering how the U.S. House of Representatives’ impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump’s interactions with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky will affect the president’s re-election campaign. Dr. Young says it’s difficult for a historian to predict the future, but he’s certain the inquiry will have some impact.

“If there is compelling evidence of significant wrongdoing and criminal activity that comes out of the Congressional hearings, it will likely sway some voters who are neutral at the moment. Just like it would sway some who are ambivalent about the whole process if there was nothing compelling coming out of the hearings. But Trump's diehard supporters and his diehard opponents won't be swayed one way or the other regardless of the findings.”

Whatever your political beliefs, CLA urges you to get out and vote today and every Election Day! To learn more from Dr. Young about how the past shapes the present, check out the Events Calendar and attend one of his Friday afternoon teach-ins, now held on both the Main Campus and Rome Campus.


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