Get over campaign stress with these 5 fun facts about US elections

Polling station supplies on display at a Board of Elections Elections voting machine facility warehouse, on Nov 3, 2016 in the Bronx borough of New York City.
Polling station supplies on display at a Board of Elections Elections voting machine facility warehouse, on Nov 3, 2016 in the Bronx borough of New York City.PHOTO: AFP

A Harvard study has found that this year's heated US presidential campaign i s causing "very or somewhat significant" levels of stress for 52 per cent of adult Americans, across generational and racial lines.

With most Americans heading to the ballot boxes on Tuesday (Nov 8), The Straits Times lists five election fun facts to take your mind off the anxiety.

1. WHY THE NOVEMBER VOTE?

 

Election dates used to be at the discretion of individual states.

But since 1845, Americans have been voting for their presidents on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November. This was extended to congressional elections in 1875 and to votes for Senate seats in 1914.

Why the oddly specific date?


Workers harvest cranberries from one of third-generation farmer Larry Harju's bogs in Carver, Massachusetts. PHOTO: REUTERS

Tuesday was chosen so that devoutly Christian farmers, confronted with unpaved roads and quite a travel to the polls, would not have to set off on their journeys on Sunday.

November was selected as the month for elections because the weather was likely to be clement and the timing would not interfere with the planting, tending or harvesting seasons of the agricultural calendar.

And the exclusion of the first Monday in November ensured that elections never conflicted with Nov 1.

The first day of the month is when merchants would have been doing their books - and politicians wanted to avoid economic results influencing the outcome of the vote.

The Christian festival of All Saints' Day also falls on Nov 1.

2. THE WRONG THIRD PARTY

The Los Angeles Times reported in April that many voters in California who thought they were registered as independents - that is, unaffiliated with any political party - had mistakenly become members of the American Independent Party (AIP).

As many as 73 per cent of the roughly 516,000 AIP members had registered by mistake, the LA Times estimated.


George Wallace, former Governor of Alabama. PHOTO: ST FILE

The far-right party, which now exists only in California, was founded in 1967 by former Alabama Governor George Wallace, a white supremacist whose inaugural address in 1963 was written by a Ku Klux Klan member and closed with the infamous line "Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever".

Today, the AIP platform is marked by support for building a wall on the US-Mexico border, the criminal prosecution of women who have abortions and a renewed ban on same-sex marriage.

3. PRESIDENT AND OTHER PROPOSITIONS


Clones of medicinal marijuana plants are pictured at Los Angeles Patients & Caregivers Group dispensary in West Hollywood. PHOTO: REUTERS

When voters go to the polls in the United States, they choose much more than presidential candidates, or even congressional representatives and senators. For many, the ballot is peppered with propositions on the state, county and city level - allowing voters to decide on everything from the outlawing of the death penalty and legalisation of marijuana use, to what to do with plastic bags in grocery stores.

In California, Proposition 60 will mandate the on-the-job use of condoms for adult film actors.

On the Massachusetts ballot, Question 3 stipulates new animal welfare regulations that will apply to out-of-state farms that import eggs into Massachusetts. Farm animals would have to be given more living space - enough to lie down, stretch and turn around - in a move that opponents argue will raise basic food prices.

4. POWER TO THE WOMEN


Hillary Clinton is running to be the first female president of the US. PHOTO: AFP

Mrs Hillary Clinton may have made history as the first woman to clinch the Democratic Party's nomination, but she is far from being the first American woman to run for president.

That honour goes to Victoria Claflin Woodhull, who announced in 1870 that she would contest the 1872 election under the banner of her Equal Rights Party. It was a daring political act meant to confront the fact that the US did not then recognise its women citizens' right to vote.

Born the seventh of 10 children to a pair of petty crooks, Woodhull barely received any education and was forced by her parents into marriage to a drunkard drug addict when she was 15. She campaigned on a platform of "free love" - by which she meant women's right to independently marry, divorce and have children - for which she was reviled by the public.

Woodhull, whose name never appeared on any ballot, spent Election Day in jail on obscenity and indecency charges after she published allegations that one of her critics, a well regarded clergyman, was a hypocritical adulterer.

Third parties aside, the first woman contender from a major party is Maine senator Margaret Chase Smith, who set her sights on the Republican nomination in 1964.

In 1972, Hawaii congresswoman Patsy Matsu Takemoto Mink - the first woman of colour elected to Congress - made a brief stab at the Democratic ticket, while the first African American congresswoman Shirley Chisholm took her campaign all the way to the party convention.

5. NO LIMIT TO VOTING AGE


South Florida voters registrar at an early voting polling centre in Miami, Florida on Nov 3, 2016. PHOTO: AFP

Texas resident Emma Primas, who is 111 years old, has been voting since she was 19.

This year is no exception, according to The Houston Chronicle, which reported that she cast her ballot on Oct 27.

Mrs Primas had the chance to meet US President Barack Obama in 2009, when she was lauded for her commitment to her civic duty.

She said then: "First, they let white women vote, and then they decided to let black folks vote. But you had to buy a poll tax. So I paid the poll tax so I could get a chance to vote."

Another senior citizen treasuring her vote is 107-year-old Donella Wilson, who has also never missed an election.

Mrs Wilson was born to parents who had been enslaved in South Carolina's Calhoun county, named after the 19th-century white supremacist vice-president John C. Calhoun.

Mrs Wilson, who plans on going to the polls come Nov 8, told her local news channel Live 5 WCSC that she prized exercising a right that African Americans fought and died to maintain.

"We couldn't spell vote," she said. "We didn't know what the word meant other that we had an opportunity to say something and cast a vote, praying as we go along that the vote could count to help us as a Negro race."

For some centenarians, it is better late than never.

Mrs Menia Perelman took her oath of citizenship in Florida in September - at the ripe old age of 100 - in order to be eligible to vote.

Mrs Perelman, who was born in Romania, spent four years in concentration camps during the Holocaust and was turned away from the US after the war due to a cap on the number of refugees the US government would accept.

She settled instead in Latin America, and came to the US in 1993 after her husband's death.