How Americans Have Voted Through History: From Voices to ScreensBreaking News
tags: politics, Voting, constitutional history
For the first 50 years of American elections, most voting wasn’t done in private and voters didn’t even make their choice on a paper ballot. Instead, those with the right to vote (only white men at the time) went to the local courthouse and publicly cast their vote out loud.
Known as “viva voce” or voice voting, this conspicuous form of public voting was the law in most states through the early 19th century and Kentucky kept it up as late as 1891. As voters arrived at the courthouse, a judge would have them swear on a Bible that they were who they said they were and that they hadn’t already voted. Once sworn in, the voter would call out his name to the clerk and announce his chosen candidates in each race.
Campaigning and carousing were allowed at the polling place, and a drunken carnival atmosphere often accompanied early American elections, which might explain why elections in the voice-voting era commanded turnout rates as high as 85 percent.
The First Paper Ballots
The first paper ballots began appearing in the early 19th century, but they weren’t standardized or even printed by government elections officials. In the beginning, paper ballots were nothing more than scraps of paper upon which the voter scrawled his candidates' names and dropped into the ballot box. Newspapers began to print out blank ballots with the titles of each office up for vote which readers could tear out and fill in with their chosen candidates.
Then the political parties got savvy. By the mid-19th century, state Republican or Democratic party officials would distribute pre-printed fliers to voters listing only their party’s candidates for office. They were called Republican and Democratic “tickets” because the small rectangles of paper resembled 19th-century train tickets. Party faithful could legally use the pre-printed ticket as their actual ballot making it easier than ever to vote straight down the party line.
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