The United States Constitution Explained: Article I - The Legislature: Part 4 - Let's Vote!
Woo Hoo! Back to a short, straight forward section! After our last two heavy sections that set up the two houses of Congress, I would like to personally thank the Framers for giving us three short and easy to understand sections in a row before moving on to how laws are made and specific powers of government. This section needs a lot less set up than the previous ones, so let's just dive right in.
Section 4 – Clause One
The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations, except as to the Places of chusing Senators.
Unlike today, communication was slow, and the time it took to choose electors for President and have them carry their votes to New York and later DC is better measured with a calendar than a watch. For this reason, the Framers thought it best to let the states handle elections since those elected would be representing them and their people. However, the Framers thought it best that since the elections could have nationwide impacts, Congress should have the power to make legislation to provide guidelines for how elections are handled without going through the amendment process. For some elections, especially in a Presidential election, there may be issues if votes do not come in by a specific time.
This has been an important clause that has led to the Election Day we are all familiar with today. The first law that governed when and how elections should occur was passed before the second Presidential Election in 1792. It stated that states had a thirty-four-day window ending on the first Wednesday in December in which the electors could meet, vote, and bring their votes to the President of the Senate.
Up until the invention of the telegraph in 1844, information took a long time to spread throughout the States, so a wide window was needed and posed no real threat to election integrity. After 1844, however, Congress needed to limit the states to the same day so that results coming in from one State would have as little impact as possible on the other States' votes. For this reason, in 1845, Congress chose the first Tuesday in November. This was because it would always be 29 days from the first Wednesday in December, giving electors plenty of time to travel to DC to submit their votes to the President of the Senate and fitting within the original thirty-four-day window. Tuesday was chosen so that citizens could go to church on Sunday, travel on Monday to wherever the election was being held (usually the county capital), and farmers to be back in time to sell their produce in the market on Wednesday.
For a long time, states varied drastically on the method for choosing electors. Some decided to do it within the State Legislatures, while others allowed it to come from a popular vote within the state. By the middle of the 19th century, however, most states adopted some form of a popular vote for selecting electors, and currently, all states use some form of a popular vote.
Given the current political climate, it is important to remember that if a State Legislature does have the legal right to vote to change how the electors are selected and select them the Legislature. Some reasons they might do this include that they do not agree with the popular vote or believe the election to be fraudulent or suspect. It is doubtful that we will ever see this happen because unless there are extreme circumstances that cast doubt on the election, it would be political suicide for the state legislatures to deviate from the standard procedures they have established.
Another important note before we move on because I have touched on it several times is that the Framers explicitly state that Congress cannot pass a law to change how Senators are elected. This shows how vehemently they believed that Senators represent the States and not the people. The Framers believed, as do I that the power to elect Senators should lie directly with the State Legislatures rather than the people. As we know, the later States and Congress disagreed and amended this section, but I still wanted to throw my two cents in.
Section 4 – Clause Two
The Congress shall assemble at least once in every Year, and such Meeting shall be on the first Monday in December, unless they shall by Law appoint a different Day.
Back in the day, political office was often not the politician's sole job. They had to be several days ride away from their family for months at a time, so it was essential to choose a date that best fits what people could do. They wanted Congress to meet every year because Representatives only get two-year terms, and they need as much of that in the Capital as possible to be effective in their roles. They chose the first Monday in December so that it was after the harvest season so that farmers or plantation owners who were politicians could finish their busy season before going off to serve in the Senate or the House of Representatives. To best account for any future needs or changes to who is serving in Congress, they allowed Congress to make changes without the need for an amendment. However, when Congress wanted to change when and how the President is elected, they went ahead and altered this date as well.
In our next post, we will continue on with Article I, Section 5. Please remember to follow us on Instagram and Facebook @marchforthfortheconstitution for other Constitution content and share us with your friends. When we reach 100 followers on our Instagram or Facebooks page, we will pick one lucky follower to give away a $25 Amazon gift card!
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