13 Important Facts About Election Day

Election Day is right around the corner. Make sure to read up on these important facts before you hit the polls.

Election Day used to look a lot like a frat party

George Washington won a seat in the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1758 after spending his entire campaign budget on drinks for his supporters. Buying votes with booze was the norm until 1811, when Maryland passed the first campaign finance reform law prohibiting the purchase of alcohol for voters. Here’s why not voting is not an option in the 2020 election.

Tuesday used to be a convenient day to vote

Voting on Tuesday is hardly a convenience now, but it was in the 19th century when farmers often had to travel long distances to the nearest polling place. They didn’t want to travel on Sunday, and they needed to be back home for market day on Wednesday. Farming also explains why we vote in November—the harvest was over.

The United States is one of the few democracies that doesn’t make Election Day a national holiday

Among the democracies that vote on weekdays, the United States is one of the few that doesn’t deem Election Day a national holiday, although it’s a civic holiday in Puerto Rico and a growing list of states. (Virginia governor Ralph Northam added his to the list earlier this year.) Meanwhile, Estonia has let its citizens vote online since 2005. Now nearly a third of Estonians vote this way. Here’s why these 5 states hold odd-year elections.

It used to take a while for everyone to get the election results

Imagine not knowing who the next president will be just two days before the inauguration. That happened in the election of 1876 when both Samuel Tilden and Rutherford B. Hayes declared victory. Tilden had 19 more electoral votes, but another 20 were contested. Congress established a bipartisan commission to decide those 20. Their 8–7 vote along party lines awarded them all—and the ­presidency—to Hayes.

A tie was once broken with a ping pong ball

A more recent close call: the 1994 House of Representatives race in Wyoming. It ended in a tie, which the governor broke by pulling a Ping-Pong ball adorned with the name of the winner out of a cowboy hat. In Nevada, fittingly, they settle ties by drawing cards—high card wins. This last happened in 2011, when neither candidate in a North Las Vegas city council primary would pay $600 for a recount.

The United States has notoriously low voter turnout

In many of the countries with near 100 percent turnout, voting is compulsory. Australians who don’t cast ballots face fines that more than double after the first offense. A Belgian who fails to vote four times loses the right to vote for the next ten years. Voting is also mandatory in Ecuador, but only for those who are literate. Here are some simple things you can to do help get out the vote.

Gambia votes with marbles

Gambia has its own literacy issue, so citizens there cast votes by dropping marbles into metal drums adorned with pictures of the candidates. Each drum has a bell inside that rings after a marble is dropped. This also eliminates voter fraud—if the bell rings more than once, someone has tried to cast multiple votes. The drum system is tedious, however. Starting next year, Gambians will vote on paper ballots.

Taking a photo of your completed ballot is illegal in more than a dozen states

And in New Zealand, any media coverage—including social media—about politics is prohibited on Election Day because it could influence the outcome. New Zealanders who violate this law can pay up to $20,000 in fines.

Astronauts can vote from space

Astronauts from Texas who find themselves in space on Election Day can still vote, thanks to a law in their state that allows secure ballots to be sent to space by Mission Control in Houston. After they make their choices, astronauts beam their ballots back to Earth, with their out-of-state address listed as “low-earth orbit.” Make sure you know about these red flags that voter suppression is happening in your area.

Should people with limited mental capacity be allowed to vote?

Ohio’s state constitution reads, “No idiot, or insane person, shall be entitled to the privileges of an elector.” Similar clauses have existed in other state constitutions to prevent the mentally disabled from casting ballots. Some states, such as Iowa, have removed theirs, while others, like New Jersey, have kept them—with revised language.

Some elections have a “none of the above” option

India, Greece, Ukraine, and Colombia have a “none of the above” option on their ballots, which allows voters to indicate disapproval of all the candidates without staying home and sitting out the election. Stateside, only ­Nevada has this option.

The weirdest write-in winner was a foot powder

Write-in candidates have won seats in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, including Congressman Charlie Wilson of Ohio, who won his primary in 2006, and Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who won in 2010. But the strangest write-in winner was Pulvapies, a foot powder that took a local election in 1967 in Picoazá, Ecuador. The brand’s ad campaign (“If you want hygiene, vote for Pulvapies”) was a joke, of course, but a majority of Picoazá’s residents wrote it in.

The 2020 American presidential race equals 99 election seasons in Japan

By its end, the 2020 American presidential race will have lasted 1,194 days, or the equivalent of 99 election seasons in Japan. By law, Japanese political campaigns cannot last more than 12 days. In France, they can last no longer than two weeks. Now, read up on everything you need to know to get out and vote in the 2020 election.

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest