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.
The voter came forward from the throng and joined a line or ascended a platform where he was publicly and officially identified, just as in a viva voce election. But instead of reading or reciting a list of names he held out the party-produced ticket, often brightly colored and distinctively marked, which contained those names. The “ticket box” was often a glass jar with a narrow neck; sometimes there were different receptacles for different groupings of the many offices being contested; and in the largest cities voters came before a voting window through which they deposited their ticket [link from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated News to follow]. But always the sight of the ticket, like the sound of the voiced vote, was the focus of nineteenth century Election Day drama.
In almost every election in almost every state an interested observer could deduce the political choices of almost every voter by noting the colorations and markings of his ticket. Sometimes voters waved their tickets above their heads to make their declaration especially visible. And sometimes party operatives, functioning as “poll watchers,” would recognize the voters or hear their names announced, and record this political intelligence in a systematic way, creating a political base listing the identity of citizens and their party preferences. In other cases, the electoral officials receiving the tickets marked a code next to each voter’s name indicating which ticket he had deposited [Bertie County link to follow].
The political intelligence gained from the poll book, the list compiled by the poll watcher, or names gained from voters’ lists secretly coded by election officials formed the basis of the canvass book for the next election. The intelligence about individual partisan proclivities was, then as now, a powerful tool for the recruitment and mobilization of voters at subsequent elections and for mailings of party platforms or speeches of prominent leaders on current issues [link to Hubbard papers to follow].
It is not easy to determine whether the revealing of individual political choices of individuals voting in ticket states was as great as in the viva voce states. But we can say for certain that in the latter case, the revelation was total: every choice of every voter was written down in a publicly available poll book in the county court house. But equally, in the ticket states, no voter could ever know who was watching and recording the “color of his ticket.” Always, however, it is important to remember that, in this political era of visible voting, few thought the individual vote should be hidden.
In most places voting was understood to be identifiable and was accepted as such. When questioned by a British parliamentarian in 1835 about voting secrecy in America, DeTocqueville replied that “there has been too little danger in a man making his vote public to create any great desire to conceal it” [link to DeTocqueville testimony]. One suspects this remained largely true in most places and for most voters, whether voting by ticket or by voice. 
 In some states, particularly Massachusetts and California, there were efforts to increase the secrecy of ticket voting. Massachusetts, in the 1850s as the secret ballot was being developed in Australia,  was experimenting with greater and greater opportunities for voter anonymity, though less comprehensively and without legislation to close bars on Election Day [see article, Volume 1, 1984]. In the 1870s, California came even closer and by 1871 state law was stipulating a standard for party tickets, first prohibiting the use of colors and designs, then requiring similar paper and then stipulating that each party number its candidates for each office in precisely the same order. By 1876 party tickets were required to be printed on paper of standard size (12” by 5”) purchased from the Secretary of State “or upon paper in every respect precisely like such paper.” The voter was to fold the ticket of his choice “crosswise from the center four times” before being deposited in such a way that no sign of the ballot’s content was visible to any observer [see article]. And all bars were to be closed while the polls were open.
Did California essentially reinvent the Australian ballot in the United States in the 1870s? In many ways, the answer is yes. As in Massachusetts, reformers in California were responding to local reform agendas to create something close to the secret ballot, especially in terms of ensuring greater individual anonymity. But there remained critical differences:
·       Parties still printed their own tickets
·       Elections were still conducted out of doors in a public place before “bystanders” from whose presence the ballot box could not be removed until the close of the poll
·       The judge of the election deposited the voter’s chosen ticket in the ballot box, announcing “in an audible tone of voice” that voter’s name and recording in “a poll list” his precise residence or his number in a registration book with addresses.
·       A voter could reveal his ticket if he were careless or inclined to do so.
(It is worth noting that, as practiced in the Australia, the UK and Canada, the secret ballot required voters to state in an audible voice their place of residence and some jurisdictions attached a “counterfoil” number to each voter’s ballot so that, just as in the viva voce poll book, the election result could be adjusted in case of demonstrated fraud.) 
California and Massachusetts were the leaders of reform in the United States.  But most states did not regulate party tickets as these reform-minded states attempted to do: voter choices in most places continued to be readily identified “by the color of their ticket.” The ticket system remained a voting form associated with identification, providing another justification for the party’s expense in printing tickets.
Not every insight into past politics derived from the poll books of the viva voce states can be said to apply equally to the ticket states. But it is equally true that those insights cannot be dismissed as irrelevant for the wider history of voting in America: for most of that history, in ticket states and in viva voce states, there was a good prospect that individual political choices were known, for certainly they were knowable. Only the adoption of the Australian secret ballot changed that, and in so doing, altered in a fundamental way both elections and voting.