Public Voting: By Tickets

Some things don’t change. Political parties in the nineteenth century wanted to know who was voting and how they voted. Political parties today want to know the same thing. Then, as now, parties needed to know their supporters and their opponents; they want to encourage supporters to continue voting and to avoid energizing their political adversaries. 

Today parties spend vast sums on surveys to identify supporters, opponents and non-voters; they store than information in vast databanks (“Secrecy in Voting Today? Not so secret?”).  Nineteenth century political operatives had only pen and pencil to create voter lists of opponents and supporters but they had even better information to accomplish the same ends.

In states like Virginia which voted a viva voce (by voice), party operatives could write down names as the heard each voter call out the candidates he supported. Or, after the election, operatives or candidates could visit the local courthouse and copy out that information from the poll books: a permanent and perfect official record of each voter and his choices (“How America Voted: By Voice”).

In states that voted by depositing a party printed listed of candidates called a “ticket.” These were often distinctively marked and/or colored so the voter’s intention could be deduced by observing the color and markings on the ticket each voter deposited. (“How the Other Half (plus) Voted: The Ticket States”). 

Using the Database

Browse the collection of images of voting tickets and explore the different ways they were used to identify and influence the voters’ choices.

Voter Choice/Identification of Voter Choice shows four ways parties designed tickets to allow party observers to see from the colors or markings of the tickets that the voter carried to the election window or box the candidates he was supporting.

Tickets also presented problems for parties and these became more serious with time; Party Authority/Erosion of Party Authority shows four of those problems.

Reformers increased state regulation of party tickets and parties found in these reforms mechanisms for ensuring higher degrees of brand loyalty.  This is the theme of State Control/ Growth of State Control.