UnCovered:  100 Years of Voting Machines


Ballot Box used in the 1920-1930 Fairfax County, VA.Over the decades Virginia has utilized a number of voting methods.  First there was the voice vote, then the paper ballot, later an electronic machine with a handle pulled much like a slot machine which locked in your vote.  For a short time flat screens were used but were either too confusing for some or required more finger pressure for others in order to be certain their choice was clear.  Now, we are back to paper ballots that remind one of a SAT test warning the voter to completely fill in the desired oval next to the candidate’s name.  All have properly recorded votes cast yet the more things change the more they stay the same.

Recently, the Fairfax County Park Authority printed this story about a wood ballot box used 100 years ago.  “When America was founded, there was no expectation of privacy in voting. The voter’s choice, along with their name and address, were recorded into polling books as they voted viva voce, or by voice.

Although this system eventually faded away as voting by paper ballot became popular, there was still no real secrecy. Ballots were provided by parties, color-coded, and often placed into a glass jar. Members of each party would send scouts to monitor the polls and could influence the outcome of the election using fraud, coercion, intimidation and violence. As voting rights expanded and more citizens could vote, public voting gave way to what reformers called the “Australian ballot” or secret ballot system.

This ballot box was donated to the Fairfax County Park Authority in 1985. The donor said it was used in the 1920s and 1930s in the Pleasant Valley precinct of the Dranesville District. Her father ran a store on Route 50 known as Rector’s Store, and the ballot box would be placed in the store during elections. In later years, she said the ballot box was placed in their home, and the Elections Office would bring a new lock for the box prior to the polls opening in the morning. The donor recalled that her mother was the local registrar of voters and would invite people over for lunch, croquet and voting on Election Day.

This information tracks with the history of voting in Virginia. While bigger cities had begun to explore voting by machine as early as 1888, the first-time voting machines were used in a Virginia election was not until a primary held on August 1, 1950, in Arlington County. Prior to this, all voting in Virginia was done with paper ballots which were hand-counted by election personnel. Many smaller precincts did not have municipal buildings, so local voting was carried out in neighborhood stores and in some cases, private residences. To this day, some states still allow homes to be designated polling places, especially in remote areas.

In further corroboration of the donor’s memories, when women gained the right to vote, they also became involved in the administration of elections. Fairfax Circuit Court records show women employed as registrars in Fairfax County voting precincts beginning in 1920, the year the 19th Amendment was ratified.”

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All Methods
Accurately Recorded the Vote

 McTammany Player Piano Voting Machine 1912McTammany Player Piano
Voting Machine 1912

1890 Gillespie Voting Machine 1890 Gillespie Voting Machine

A Direct-Recording Electronic Voting (DRE) machine with Paper  for Voter to VerifyA Direct-Recording Electronic Voting (DRE) Machine with Paper for Voter to Verify

 2008 Mechanical Lever Voting MachineLever Style Voting Machine—National Museum of American History

 Advanced Voting Machine used in Arlington County, VA—SmithsonianAdvanced Voting Machine used in Arlington County, VA—Smithsonian

 2008 Mechanical Lever Voting Machine

2008 Mechanical Lever Voting Machine


Brown Creeper: By User:Mdf - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=495736

(Copyright © 2012 Annandale Chamber of Commerce. All rights reserved. Photographs are from Wikipedia, and Private Collections.  (Photographs & images, on this page, and on this website, are not available for use by other publications, blogs, individuals, websites, or social media sites.)


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