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Voting Machines! Plus, Political Fiction for Every Political Taste

Posted about 6 days ago by Meg Raymond
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Every four years, the United States elects a new president. For the first 50 years or so of our nation’s history, voting was done in person at the local courthouse by viva voce, or voice voting. Eligible voters – white men, over the age of 21, and who were property owners or tax payers – would approach the clerk of the court, state their names, and call out their votes. This was the law in most states through the early 19th century – although Kentucky held on to viva voce until 1891. Campaigning was allowed, and voting was often a raucous, drunken revelry. Voter turnout tended be very high – as many as 85% of eligible white men voted.

In 1888, Massachusetts was the first state to adopt the “Australian Secret Ballot” system of paper voting. Eligible voters – still white male property owners – cast their votes on any old scrap of paper and dropped them in locked ballot boxes located at the local courthouse. Newspapers began to print blank ballots that could be cut out, votes filled in by hand, and put in the ballot box. Political parties created “tickets” (about the size of a railway ticket) that were pre-printed with the “party line” candidates. These were considered legal ballots.

Voting machine, The Acme Ballot Box, ca 1888.

Then came an engineering marvel. Patent # 415,549 was issued to Jacob Meyers on November 19th, 1889. His voting machine was a lever-operated “Automatic Booth” that used no electricity – only mechanical parts. It had more moving parts than an automobile! A big “master” lever opened and shut a privacy curtain. Voters would flip smaller levers to choose their candidates. Re-opening the curtain with the master lever tallied the votes and reset the machine for the next voter. This type of voting machine was used from about 1910 until the 1980s.

an early “automatic” voting booth

Types of chads


Punch cards were the next “innovation”. Although punch card technology (for census and other uses) was patented in 1889 by Herman Hollerith, punch cards were not used for voting until the 1960s. Punch cards were “counted” by computer tabulation. The drawbacks became apparent in the 2000 election, when we learned about chads: hanging, dimpled, pregnant, and more!


The Help America Vote Act of 2002 mandated higher standards for voting equipment. Touch pad computer voting was implemented to an almost immediate backlash. There was no national standardization and many machines had serious software glitches and were prone to hacking.

Most localities have gone back to paper ballots, but with a twist. “Scantron” ballots use optical scanning machines to “read” and tabulate fill-in-the-bubble ballots.

Now, you can vote by mail, absentee, absentee-in-person, or show up at your voting precinct on election day.



Whether you’ve already voted, or are waiting until Election Day to go to the polls, try some political fiction during this political season. Whether you want thrillers, black comedies, or historical fiction, RPL has you covered. Try these booklists:


POLITICAL FAMILIES – Political Power is Relative

POLITICAL FICTION – Historical, Literary, or Satirical

POLITICAL PLOT TWISTS – Not Quite Historically Accurate Alternative History Political Fiction

POLITICAL THRILLERS – Pulse-pounding D. C. Beltway Suspense

POLITICAL WIVES – First Ladies (or First Lady Adjacent) Fiction



Meg Raymond

If I'm not librarianing, or chasing one of my plethora of dogs around the yard, I probably have my nose buried in a book. I like all kinds of books. Regency romances - love 'em. Gory police procedurals - yes, ma'am. Historical fiction - please, and thank you. Heavy "literary" titles - shhhh, I may not have actually finished some of those! Off-beat, warped, slightly askew books - oh, yes, indeedy. Violent supernatural fantasy - why not? Chick lit, hen lit, lad lit - yeah, yeah, yeah. What have you read? Need a suggestion, or ten? Get hand-crafted suggestions with The Bookologist

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