Closing In on Election Day

By Richard Stengel
Published October 23rd 2008 in Time Magazine
On Tuesday, Nov. 4, we will be selecting our next President. Here's my question: Why Tuesday? If your answer was, Because that's the way we've always done it, you'd be right. We've been doing it that way since 1845, and the murky reasons for it are that nobody wanted to vote on the Sabbath and voters needed time to travel by horse and buggy. But I've long thought--as have many others--that holding an election on a workday is undemocratic and makes it difficult for people to fulfill their signal act of civic participation. Either change it to Saturday, or make Election Day a holiday.

The fact that so many states now allow early voting or no-fault absentee voting is a good thing. But as a nation that is the beacon of democracy, we sure make it hard for people to participate. The American registration system is far more local and decentralized than that of almost any other Western democracy, and we pay a price for it. As Michael Scherer's story points out, on Nov. 4 a host of problems could arise from issues such as inaccurate registration databases, badly designed ballots and confusing rules. While those problems may not be determinative or alter the result, they could, and the fact that we allocated nearly $3 billion through the Help America Vote Act in the past six years without much improving the system is a scandal. Both Senator Herb Kohl of Wisconsin and Representative Steve Israel of New York have introduced a Weekend Voting Act, and you can find out more about these issues at and

In the Spring of 2006, Joe Klein wrote a column for us titled "Barack Obama Isn't Not Running for President," in which Joe basically predicted that the first-term Senator would throw his hat in the ring. In October of that year, we put Joe's story about Obama on the cover and called it "Why Barack Obama Could Be the Next President." This was long before many people even gave the first-term Chicago Senator a chance to win the Democratic nomination. Joe has been tracking every step of Obama's journey and marking the Senator's evolution along the way. The story is both critical and insightful in explaining how Obama makes decisions and how he has changed as a candidate. At the same time, Joe has been tracking Senator John McCain. Joe wrote extensively about McCain in the 2000 election cycle and has been critical of him over the past few months. Recently, Joe was excluded from both the McCain and the Sarah Palin campaign planes. As a columnist, Joe always calls it the way he sees it, and he has been indefatigable in this latest election, describing it as perhaps the most extraordinary election of all that he has covered, and that goes back to 1976. Talk about experience.

In this week's piece and in his exclusive interview, Joe sits down with Obama only a couple of weeks before the election, and the Democrat is extremely candid about his policies on energy, the economy, Iraq and Afghanistan and his dealing with General David Petraeus. Candidates rarely do that. But Joe is in a class by himself.

Richard Stengel, MANAGING EDITOR