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Evidence from the poll books challenges our perception – and the insistence of textbooks – that political participation was much higher in the past than in the present. Indeed the prevailing textbook view is that the highest rates of political participation in America’s history came in the mid- nineteenth century. This conclusion, however, rests upon the decennial US census records and their enumeration, which from the 1850 census onwards named and provided socio-economic information for every free individual, and from 1870 all individuals, present when the enumeration occurred.

In Practice How Different Were Ticket and Viva Voce Elections?

There is only fragmentary evidence of how elections were conducted in America’s past. There are two reasons for this.
First, the very ordinary is often the least recorded: few people enquire, let alone document in detail, how ordinary things happen, whether it is how checks are cashed or how elections are conducted.

How the Other Half (plus) Voted: The Party Ticket States

The alternative to oral voting was the party-produced ticket system that slowly came to dominate the American political landscape. In states not using viva voce voting, political parties produced their preferred list of candidates and made those tickets available to the voters at the polling place on Election Day. Before Election Day, facsimiles of party tickets appeared in the party-run newspapers. Increasingly often, tickets were mailed to likely supporters to remind them of the party candidates and how to vote when they came to the polls.

Secrecy in Voting in American History: No Secrets There

For most of America’s history, from colonial days to the 1890s, keeping the content of your vote secret was almost impossible. There was no expectation that the vote should be secret and little understanding of how this could be accomplished even if it were a good idea. Many people – and not just political operatives – thought secrecy was not a good idea. In those days there was no model for structuring elections so they could be private individual matters, conducted quietly inside public buildings, with votes cast while hidden red, white, and blue striped curtains.

I voted in public

And I did not get arrested.

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Secrecy in Voting Today? Not so secret?

When you vote in national, state and local elections, you go into the booth confident that no-one will know who you voted for. It’s a secret.
Today, we look upon that secret ballot as an integral, almost sacred, element of voting. Robert Dahl wrote that “secrecy has become the general standard; a country in which it is widely violated would be judged as lacking free and fair elections.”(Dahl, On Democracy, 1998: 96) 

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