That’s the Ticket: Voting in the 19th Century

“That’s the Ticket: Voting in the 19th Century,” a new exhibit on display in UC San Diego’s Geisel Library, features a wide Ballots NewHampshire1884RepPresStCounty-190range of voting ballots or tickets that were used during the 19th and early 20th centuries. The ballots are the property of Samuel Kernell, a professor of Political Science at UC San Diego and co-author (with Erik J. Engstrom) of the new book “Party Ballots, Reform, and the Transformation of America’s Electoral System.” The book explores the fascinating and puzzling world of 19th and early 20th century American elections.

Ballots NewHampshireDem1882ExampleOfPaster-215According to Kernell, up until the late 1820’s, voting by voice was the prevalent practice for electing candidates for public office. A number of factors made it necessary to transition to a paper ballot system of voting, including the profusion of elective offices with too many voters voting for too many offices, both of which made voice voting impractical. The new practice of voters publicly submitting a party ballot, however, ushered in numerous possibilities for party patronage and outright voter fraud. With a single ballot — or ticket, as ballots were referred to then– affecting so many offices, party politicians sought to mobilize as many supporters as possible. And, since the voting was public, they could confirm that a voter voted “correctly,” which enabled party bosses to promise services, jobs, and even direct bribes–$5 gold pieces in the 1880 election–were offered up to persuade supporters to go to the polls. By 1880, some presidential elections were generating a nearly 80 percent turnout. It was not until the last decade of the 19th century, that Australian ballot reform swept the nation. This led to the private voting and state-supplied ballot listing of the various political parties’ candidates for each of the offices, which reflects our current voting process.

That’s the Ticket: Voting in the 19th Century is on display through December 22nd on the main floor of Geisel Library.

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