Election History- Part 1

-Karen Michelle

What did we just do?

Election History 1

Voter Vexation:

Now that the midterms are over, there are already claims of fraud. Election fraud is made up of different things and all kinds of  controversy surrounding every election process. We want to go back, take a look at history, see how we got to where we are and maybe dispel some common myths and narratives along the way. So let’s go back, way back into time.  


Who were the first voters?

During the colonial period, Only people who had enough property sufficient to ensure that they were personally independent and were solidly invested in their communities could vote. That qualification normally applied to men who were heads of households, but the right  to vote could extend to widows who had become responsible for the family property. Some colonies excluded propertied people whose civic commitment they suspected—recent arrivals, members of minority religions Usually catholics), and racial groups deemed unacceptable. But, usually excluded were laborers, tenant farmers, unskilled workers, and indentured servants, all of whom were considered to lack a ‘‘stake in society,’’ a permanent interest in the community, and were thought to be prone to corruption or bribery.

Early Colonial Public Voting

In early colonial America, it was entirely understood that voting was a civic act. And like other civic acts, voting needed to be done in public.

According to early documented history  in early towns, say, New England people would vote publically- this was called Viva Voce, which literally means “by voice” Basically,  you would vote like we do in most informal circumstances where you would just kind raise your hand or move to signify your choice.

It would look like this.  You go to the town common and you would vote for your candidate by something as simple as moving to one side of the common. Then a head count per side would be taken right then.

Actually the word poll means head-literally the top of your head.  So the head count process was called counting the polls.

Sometimes you could shout out ya’s and nay’s if there was enough people.  It was common understanding everyone knew each other’s votes-in fact, it was considered pretty shameful to hide your vote.

Things began to change

Even after the Constitution, the Framers left voting details to the States. The same system was still in place but things began evolving. There started to be systems using ballots. Before we go any farther, let’s look at the word ballot, which comes from the same root as the word bullet -it comes from the Italian word ballotta, which is a small stone used to cast a vote. Humans have been voting for thousands of years, often with the use of sticks, stones, shells or even pieces of pottery. In public elections, eligible voters would literally cast their vote by tossing a symbol into a pile for a candidate or measure that the voter supported. Eventually, this method evolved into using bits of paper.

A couple of states adopted the paper ballot method of voting but it was still a pretty public activity-and a chaotic one-even as the ballot grew in popularity.  

Before the election of Grover Cleveland, there was no standard government issued ballot. Some voters brought their own homemade one but usually they were distributed by political parties. Voting was still not a private experience. Each party’s ballot was printed on different colors of paper and the ballot container was usually transparent. Also, because the parties themselves created the ballot, they usually designed it as a straight ticket with no opportunities for split ticket voting or write-in candidates. This set-up was obviously rife with voter fraud.

K:Secrecy Surges

Then, in 1858, a new secret ballot system was developed in Victoria, Australia. England took note of the success of this new system and it became the new way of doing things. America began to observe and consider the new, revolutionary method .The Australian system as it was known, also included a standardized, government developed ballot rather than a party specific one and listed all the candidates in an election.

Interestingly, one of the passionate critics of the new ballot was the father of liberalism, John Stuart Mill, Voting, Mill insisted, is not a right but a trust: if it were a right, who could blame a voter for selling it? Every man’s vote must be public for the same reason that votes on the floor of the legislature are public. If a congressman or a Member of Parliament could conceal his vote, would we not expect him to vote badly, in his own interest and not in ours? A secret vote is, by definition, a selfish vote. Only if a man votes “under the eye and criticism of the public” will he put public interest above his own.”

The response to Mill’s concerns were resolute. “Even if voting is a public trust, which is debatable, voters need to exercise it privately to exercise it well, because the electorate, unlike the legislature, consists of men of unequal rank. The powerless will always be prevailed upon by the powerful; only secrecy can protect them from bribery and bullying”. With the matter settled, The new private voting ballot made its way to the US by 1888 and New York and Massachusetts became the first state to utilize the system that led directly to where we are today. Sadly, this new system also created loopholes that plagued disenfranchised groups for decades to come.

As the new system changed, so did voting rights themselves. Let’s take a look at the evolution of voting in this country:

Voting Rights Timeline

1856 Voting was expanded to all white men. Throughout all this time the States had been slowly doing away with property requirements. In 1856, North Carolina was the last state to remove property ownership as a requirement to vote.

1868 The 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution granted full citizenship rights, including voting rights, to all men born or naturalized in the United States. Also, Former slaves were  granted citizenship. Voters, however, are explicitly defined as male. Although the amendment forbids states from denying any rights of citizenship, voting regulation is still left in their hands.

-1870, The 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution eliminated racial barriers to voting; however, many states continued practicing voter discrimination. Poll taxes, literacy tests, fraud, and intimidation still prevented many from voting. Many who tried to exercise their new right were killed trying to do so.  

-1887 The Right to Vote Dawes Act passed. It granted citizenship to Native Americans who give up their tribal affiliations

-1890 Wyoming became the first state to legislate voting for women in its constitution. Also in 1890,The Indian Naturalization Act grants citizenship to Native Americans whose applications are approved—similar to the process of immigrant naturalization.

-1920 The19th Amendment passed, giving women the right to vote in both state and federal elections.

-1924 The Indian Citizenship Act grants citizenship to Native Americans, but many states nonetheless made laws and policies which prohibited them from voting but by 1947 those barriers to Native American voting were removed.

-1963-65 Massive efforts intensified in the South to register African Americans to vote.. However,many state officials still utilized barriers restricting access by imposes taxes, literacy tests and violent intimidation. Finally, In 1965, the Voting Rights Act passed. It forbade states from imposing restrictions, and provided mechanisms for the federal government to enforce its provisions.

-1971 Brought the 26th Amendment, granting voting rights to 18-year-olds.

-1975 The  Amendment to Voting Rights Act required that certain voting materials be printed in languages besides English so that non English speakers could participate in the voting process.

-1993 The National Voter Registration Act passed,making registration available at the Department of Motor Vehicles as well as public assistance and disabilities agencies.

-2002   Help America Vote Act (HAVA) passed in response to the disputed 2000 presidential election.This comprehensive voting reform effort required states comply with federal mandate for provisional ballots, disability access, centralized, computerized voting lists, electronic voting and requirement that first-time voters present identification before voting. We could pretty much do an entire episode on HAVA.

As more and more people were afforded the opportunity to vote, technology had to updated to meet increasing demand.

The Voting Process evolves

After the secret paper ballot system had been in place for a while, new technology begin to emerge and take its place.

Lever voting machine.

Mechanical voting machines took the stage in the early and mid 20th century. Using an odometer-style counter, the machines tallied the vote each time a voter pulled a lever.

:Punch card voting machine

By the 1960s, punchcards with “chads” removed by poking them with a stylus became the most common voting machines in the U.S. Votes were tallied by large computers.

Direct Recording Voting Machine

Direct-recording electronic (DRE) voting machines came on the scene after the Help America Vote Act helped hundreds of counties buy 50,000 machines in 2002.However Problems with the machines have caused them to be discarded by many states.

Optical Scanning Voting Machine

Computer input device that uses a light beam to scan codes, text, or graphic images directly into a computer or computer system. When these machines began to replace the others after the Hava Act, it was thought they were the future, but now we know that hacking is a big problem for these machines and simpler, more reliable options are being discussed as replacements.

Unfortunately, along with progress comes potential for abuse, and this is was a problem at several points during history.

Voter Fraud History:

American democracy has long suffered from electoral fraud. George Washington bought votes with liquor, Boss Tweed paid “repeaters” to cast four ballots apiece in New York.  Miami’s 1997 mayoral race included hundreds of ballots cast by “vote brokers”.

Just for fun, let’s look at some of the notorious cases of voter fraud in American History.

In the 1850’s, the Know-Nothing Party wreaked havoc in Baltimore by preventing immigrants from voting or forcing them to choose Know-Nothing candidates.

One of their favorite tools was the shoemaker’s awl, a lengthy “sharp steel needle” used for piercing leather. Then there were “blood tubs,” vats of animal blood that Know-Nothings splashed over immigrants’ faces to frighten them from the polls. Know-Nothings also committed “cooping,” which entailed imprisoning immigrants in cellars or sheds, getting them drunk, and making them vote repeatedly. one “coop” could contain 90 people.

The vicious vote-rigging ignited outright riots during elections. Baltimore became a city of blood tubs and bloodbaths as political factions attacked each other with firearms, axes, picks, and bricks. The electoral explosions subsided during the Civil War.

The 1876 presidential showdown got low-down and beyond dirty. Democratic candidate Samuel Tilden squared off with Republican Rutherford Hayes.Ballot battles raged as mass misconduct marred the voting process. Both Democrats and Republicans behaved abhorrently. Each side nullified each other’s votes and paid to “correct” tainted tallies. Ballot boxes got dumped into bodies of water. Three states submitted multiple conflicting vote counts.

In 1935, we have the case of Tom Pendergast.

Pendergast was a brawler, a businessman, and the brother of Kansas City’s previous political boss. He cut deals with the Mafia, got cuts of the profits from multimillion-dollar government projects, and cut people off at the knees when they got in his way.

He bent elected officials to his will and curried favor with constituents by pushing for popular initiatives. But he also pushed residents around.

His hardest push occurred during 1934’s “Bloody Tuesday” elections. The New York Times reported that Pendergast goons used machine guns, blackjacks, and pistols to win over voters.

Four people died, 11 were critically wounded, and over 200 were assaulted

In 1936 Pendergast’s posse went a less messy  route, registering up to 80,000 dead, sick, or nonexistent voters. A federal attorney revealed that in one ward, Pendergast candidates won by a ratio of 1,469 to 1. Federal agents pored over 12 tons of ballots and documents and began dismantling Kansas City’s political machine.

Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh was an Indian mystic who loved free love. He had thousands of orange-clad disciples called Rajneeshees who, according to a former follower, freely loved each other like rutting dogs.

India’s government didn’t love them, though, because in 1981 Rajneesh and his followers were basically chased from the country. They went to Oregon and went crazier-which included becoming elected officials in a town called Antelope and renaming the city Rajneesh as well as naming a recycling center after Hitler.

They also wanted to construct homes in Wasco County for their ever-expanding group, but officials weren’t fans of the idea. So in 1984 Rajneeshee leaders tried to win Wasco County elections by preventing residents from voting and forcing homeless people to vote instead.

Cult members also contaminated restaurant salad bars with salmonella-laced liquid, causing 751 people to get very ill.  This event marked the largest bioterror attack in U.S. history. The Rajneeshees also bussed in over 2,300 homeless people whom they blindfolded and drugged with tranquilizer-infused beer.

State officials quickly noticed the avalanche of suspicious voter registrations and shut it down. Three Rajneeshees did prison time and got deported.

Could it be that just like the annual reports of drugs and razor blades in Halloween candy, some singular events turned into a kind of political urban legend?

Next week we will find out.

Sources are provided on Election History 3

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