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OpinionIsrael at War

Should Israel’s fate be decided by a US law from 1845?

Biden’s advisers perceive young voters as being so shallow and uninformed that they will choose their candidate based on whatever image they happen to see on Instagram the day before they vote.

Philadelphia voters in line during the U.S. presidential elections in November 2016. Credit: Wikimedia Commons/VOA.
Philadelphia voters in line during the U.S. presidential elections in November 2016. Credit: Wikimedia Commons/VOA.
Rafael Medoff
Dr. Rafael Medoff is founding director of the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies.

The Biden administration reportedly is pressuring Israel to ends its war against Hamas before America’s presidential election in November.

The news agency Axios quotes “a source close to the White House” as saying “Biden can’t have the war and the growing death toll continue dominating the news cycle as the elections get closer” because then he might “lose support among younger voters.”

According to this somewhat condescending perspective, Biden’s advisers perceive young voters as being so shallow and uninformed that they will choose their candidate based on whatever image they happen to see on Instagram the day before they vote.

While Biden is understandably focused on his re-election campaign, it certainly would be a curious development if Israel’s military strategy, which is literally a matter of life and death for its citizens, were to be determined by something as arbitrary as the American political calendar.

After all, there’s nothing holy about the U.S. presidential election taking place on the Tuesday following the first Monday in November. That rule originated in 1845. Before that, each state set its own election date.

Voting for the first presidential election, in 1788, was held in some states as early as Dec. 15 and as late as the following Jan. 7 in others. Four years later, voters cast their ballots as early as Nov. 2 and as late as Dec. 5.

Imagine if it was still done that way. Would Biden be telling Israel to change its military strategy every few days, depending on how he was doing in the polls in each particular state?

The need for a uniform national voting day became apparent because of a type of election fraud that was nicknamed “pipelaying.” Congressman James Duncan of Pennsylvania, speaking on behalf of legislation introduced in late 1844 to establish a single voting day, explained that because different states had different voting days, “poor laborers” were being offered “two dollars a day and good roast beef” to go from state to state, casting ballots for a particular candidate (voter registration was not yet required). The traveling voters were instructed that if they were caught, they should say they were visiting the state in order to lay pipes.

Why did Congress pick November? And why a particular Tuesday? Those choices had to do with very specific factors that were relevant in the mid-19th century but are completely irrelevant today.

Why November? America was largely agrarian in the early 1800s. Spring and early summer were the planting season, so farmers were too busy to vote. Same for late summer and early fall, when harvesting took place. The choice of November was a way to squeeze in an election between picking cucumbers and the first signs of frost.

Why Tuesday? Once again, agricultural considerations. Many farmers brought their crops to market on Wednesdays, Thursdays, or Fridays. So lawmakers decided Tuesday would make sense for voting.

And why “the first Tuesday after the first Monday”? So that election day would never occur on the first day of the month. Congress was sensitive to the feelings of Catholics, who had a religious holiday, All Saints Day—also known as All Hallows’ Day—on Nov. 1 (the secular version is today called Halloween). Also, the first day of the month traditionally was when many businesspeople took care of their bookkeeping for the previous month.

But what about special elections? If a president leaves office, the vice president serves the remainder of his four year-term and the next election takes place in November of the regularly scheduled year. If a U.S. senator or member of the House of Representatives leaves office, however, a special election is held on a date chosen by the governor. Some of those elections are extremely important to the White House, especially these days when both the Senate and the House are so closely divided between the parties.

So, imagine for a moment that a particularly crucial special election for a Senate seat was due to take place this coming July—a seat that would determine which party controls the Senate. Would Biden be demanding that Israel cease firing at Hamas by then, in order to help his party win that race? What if it was going to be held in May? Or March? How soon would the president be demanding Israel halt its counter-terror operations? Would a date that was arbitrarily chosen by some governor decide a matter of life and death for Israel’s citizens?

The America-Israel alliance is important. And Israel is of course sensitive to the president’s domestic concerns and political interests. But is it reasonable to expect Israeli voters to risk their nation’s security based on a schedule determined according to when pumpkins were harvested in 19th century Rhode Island?

Originally published by The Jewish Journal.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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