American Events in November: Election Day

In the U.S., there are three nationally observed events in November: Election Day, Veterans Day, and Thanksgiving.

Election Day is scheduled for the first Tuesday (after the first Monday) of November. This means it can fall anywhere between November 2 and 8. Most interesting for international observers is the Presidential election, which is held every four years. These happen to fall on even-numbered years, with recent elections for President occurring in 2000, 2004, 2008, and 2012. All 435 members of the U.S. House of Representatives stand for election (or re-election) every two years, so they are required to campaign and keep in touch with their home district voters frequently. Every two years, one-third of the 100 members of the U.S. Senate stand for election (or re-election). A Senator’s term of office is six years long, compared to only two for a Representative’s.

 photo: library.austintexas.gov

photo: library.austintexas.gov

In odd-numbered years, there are seldom national elections, so voters may have only local or statewide ballot issues to decide. These may include funding for local projects, or election of officials who govern local school boards, city councils, or township commissions. A recent statewide ballot proposal asked Michigan voters to regulate wolf hunting. In 2008, a county-wide proposal where I live asked voters to approve sales of alcohol on Sundays (previously banned by the heavily religious population).  Happily, it passed.

Polling places in Michigan are open from 7 AM to 8 PM. Most states across the country have similar voting times, in a range of 12-14 hours. If polls run out of ballots, voters who are waiting in line by the evening cutoff time are allowed to wait until they have cast their votes. Mail-in ballots are available for voters who are unable to travel to the polls (because they are elderly, sick, in jail, or out of town).

The national custom of voting on a Tuesday is drawing increasing criticism. The claim is that it disadvantages working class people who cannot leave their jobs during the day, who have children to pick up from daycare, and who have long commutes to and from work. Critics say it would be fairer to make Election Day a national holiday where no one would have work conflicts on that day. Still others propose making elections 48 hours long and moving them to the weekend to allow maximum voter participation. 

 My friend Deb Havens (right), pictured with Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, recently ran for Michigan State Senate.

My friend Deb Havens (right), pictured with Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, recently ran for Michigan State Senate.

Alan Headbloom

Alan advises Americans how to be global citizens and expats how to fit in to Michigan culture without annoying their native coworkers and clients. He also tweets and blogs at the intersection of language and culture. Over decades, he's traveled, studied, or lived on six continents, putting strange foods into his mouth and emitting strange sounds from it. His use of English, German, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Swedish, Hausa, and Japanese all improve with alcohol use. He gives invited public presentations on culture and unsolicited private advice on English grammar and usage; the latter isn't always appreciated. Visit his website for information on consulting, coaching, or speaking engagements.