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Since You Asked

There must be a good reason why we vote on a Tuesday in November, but I'll be darned if I can think of one. Can you explain the origins of this strange date?

— Connor O., Grants Pass

The world was a very different place 200 years ago when the Founding Fathers were figuring out how to make these United States work.

Back in the 1700s, most people lived on small farms and raised most of their own food. Voting took time because voters had to travel to their polling place, usually at the county seat, and the trip could take hours. To encourage the men to vote, lawmakers tried to pick a time of year when the farmers wouldn't be too busy to take a day off to cast their ballot.

This wasn't as easy as it sounds. Spring was planting time, summer was filled with taking care of the crops and fall was the harvest season. That leaves winter, but winter really wasn't an option because there were no paved roads, and the mud made riding or walking an unlikely proposition.

Early November turned out to be the time when most of the farm work was done and the roads were still passable (usually).

From there it was a matter of picking the appropriate day. Nov. 1 was ruled out because it's All Saints Day, a Catholic holy day. Mondays were out because that would have required some voters to travel on Sunday, possibly conflicting with their religious obligations.

The solution was to make Election Day the Tuesday after the first Monday in November. That way, voters wouldn't have to travel on the Sabbath and the election would never fall on All Saints Day.

These days, with instant communication and Oregon's innovative vote-by-mail system, we could probably move the election to any day we chose, but habits are hard to break. So don't expect voting day to move anytime soon, Connor.

Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; or by e-mail to youasked@mailtribune.com.