Election 1944: Late counting of soldier votes (10-28-44)

The Pittsburgh Press (October 28, 1944)


Background of news –
Late counting of soldier votes

By Bertram Benedict

Unless the presidential election of 1944 turns out to be one-sided, the result may be in doubt for some time after Election Day. That will be because in 11 states the ballots of servicemen and women will not be counted until after Nov. 7.

In Pennsylvania, whose 35 electoral votes might well be decisive in a close election, military ballots will not be counted until Nov. 22. In Nebraska, the count of absentee soldier ballots begins on Nov. 30; it may continue until Dec. 7.

The 11 states which will count absentee ballots after Nov. 7 are given below:


State Electoral vote Counting date
California 25 Nov. 24
Florida 8 Nov. 7-17
Rhode Island 4 Dec. 5
Utah 4 Nov. 7-12
Washington 8 Nov. 13


Colorado 6 Nov. 22
Nebraska 6 Nov. 30
North Dakota 4 Nov. 22


Delaware 3 Nov. 8
Missouri 15 Nov. 9
Pennsylvania 35 Nov. 22

This situation – in which some ballots in some states will be cast and counted after most states have finished voting – takes one back to the early days of the Republic, when states voted for President on different days.

34-day span permitted

By an act of 1792, Congress provided that the states might vote for President any time during the 34 days preceding the first Wednesday in December. This 34-day span was in effect for 14 presidential elections. On Jan. 23, 1845, Congress put on the statute books the law still in effect – that all states vote for President on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November.

With states voting on different days, the result of a presidential election usually was known well before Election Day came around in those states which had set it toward the end of the permissible 34-day period. So, there was no point in those states voting.

In the 1840 election, when Harrison ran for the Whigs against Van Buren for the Democrats, the first states to vote were Ohio and Pennsylvania, on Oct. 30. They gave 51 electoral votes to Harrison.

With 148 electoral votes necessary to elect, the election was obviously in the bag for the Whigs. Harrison had 185 votes by Nov. 5, although more than one-fourth of the states were still to vote.

Methods differed, too

Different voting days were not the only complication in those early elections. There were also different methods of voting for President. In some states, the presidential electors were chosen by the legislatures (in the first election, no vote was cast for New York, because the two houses of the legislature could not agree). Other states had statewide popular elections. Others had popular elections by districts; some districts would go for one candidate, some for another.

Then there was often doubt about electors. In 1800, the Federalists thought they had reelected President John Adams, only to find that they were mistaken in counting upon the electors from South Carolina. And sometimes electors who were chosen did not show up in their state capitals to cast their votes.