Election Day History - by Kate Kelly
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Election Day, A History

Political Trickery

Maintaining a fair vote has never been easy. Throughout the years, people have found ways to manipulate the ballot box. They’ve closed the polls early, “voted the dead,” naturalized citizens quickly in return for a promised vote, and insisted on proof of literacy for some voters and not for others. Consider these other examples:

  • In a hotly contested election to decide the location of the Essex (New Jersey) county seat, people cast as many votes as they could, traveling by horse and carriage from polling place to polling place. At the time, women had the right to vote in New Jersey, and young men dressed as women to vote. The largest number of votes ever cast before in the county had been 4500; for this election, nearly 14,000 votes were counted. The township of Acquacknonk, where 350 voters lived, polled nearly 1900 votes. Because of the very obvious abuse of the voting process, the results of the election were declared void. In 1807 New Jersey reverted to limiting the franchise to free white male citizens.

  • “Little jokers” were a way of creating what were called “self-rising” ballots. Thin strips of paper with votes on them were inserted into regular folded paper ballots. When the single ballot—and supposed single vote—was dropped into the ballot box, a little shake of the box by an in-the-know inspector would release the additional ballots.

  • To overcome the fact that not all voters could read or write, political parties created pre-printed ballots (in colors and with designs to guide the illiterate) that were distributed to voters in advance. Sometimes ballots were falsified to look like the ballot of the opposing party; unsuspecting voters would take this ballot, and in so doing, cast a vote for the other side. Pre-printed ballots also meant that people almost always voted a straight party ticket. Write-ins were allowed but the parties crafted “tapeworm” ballots where writing or cross-hatching covered all of the white space and didn’t leave room for adding in other names.

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   © 2008 Kate Kelly