America's Voting Patchwork
Because the Constitution gives states the job of running elections, voting in the United States has developed into a patchwork of manual, mechanical, and electronic balloting.
Many methods common in the past are still used in some places today.
Image of US counties
Enlarge photo of US counties

Voting Patchwork

The map shows types of voting equipment expected to be used in the November 2004 elections in 3,141 counties in the United States. Counties include the District of Columbia, boroughs and census areas in Alaska, parishes
in Louisiana, and independent cities in
several states.

Some voting methods from the past are still
in use today.

Map data courtesy of Election Data
Services, Inc. © 2004

Wooden ballot box with marbles

The term ballot is derived from the Italian ballotta, meaning "little ball." This ballot box was not used in a U.S. election. It was used by members of the Association of the Oldest Inhabitants of Washington, D.C., a social club.

Photo of wooden ballot box with marbles
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Photo of The County Election
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The County Election

George Caleb Bingham's The County Election (1852) depicts a Missouri election day. In that time and place, only white male property-owners could vote, and candidates and their representatives could solicit votes immediately before the voting. Alcohol flowed freely, and votes were cast by voice and recorded in public.

One of America's leading 19th-century genre painters, George Caleb Bingham enjoyed successful careers in art, politics, and public service in the state of Missouri. Bingham painted this scene twice. The first County Election was exhibited at the Whig National Convention in Baltimore, which Bingham attended in July 1852. The copy painting reproduced here was completed later that summer, and like the first was used to promote the democratic ideals of the Whig Party to a national audience. This painting toured Missouri, Louisiana, and Kentucky.

Courtesy Saint Louis Art Museum, gift of the Bank of America

Ballot, New York Electoral College, Taft 1909

Ballot, New York Electoral College, Sherman 1909

New York Electoral College ballots cast for William Howard Taft and James S. Sherman, 1909.

Article II of the Constitution established the Electoral College, the body of people who actually elect the president. Each state has a number of electors equal to its number of senators and representatives. The candidate who gets the most votes in a state wins all of that state's Electoral College votes.

The Electoral College system occasionally produces a president who actually received fewer popular votes than his opponents. This occurred in 1824 (John Quincy Adams), 1860 (Abraham Lincoln), 1876 (Rutherford B. Hayes), 1888 (Benjamin Harrison), 1912 (Woodrow Wilson), 1948 (Harry S. Truman), and 2000 (George W. Bush).

Photo of Ballot, New York Electoral College
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Photo of Ballot, New York Electoral College
Enlarge photo of ballot, new york electoral college
Photo of U.S. Electoral Commission
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U.S. Electoral Commission

The fifteen-member U.S. Electoral Commission meeting in the Supreme Court Chamber, 1877. The election of 1876 between Democrat Samuel J. Tilden and Republican Rutherford B. Hayes was decided along party lines for Hayes by a vote of
8 to 7.

D.C. Board of Elections, 1964

District of Columbia official ballot and ballot box, November 3, 1964.

Cardboard ballot box

Although the administration of elections is a state and local matter, Congress has oversight of federal elections and those in the District of Columbia. Residents of the District of Columbia voted for president for the first time in 1964.

Photo of Ballot
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Photo of Cardboard ballot box
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Photo of Wooden ballot box
Enlarge photo of Wooden ballot box

Wooden ballot box

This wooden ballot box was used in the northeastern United States and dates
from about 1870.

Metal ballot box

This ballot box, made of galvanized metal, was used in Tulare County, California, and dates from about 1936.

Photo of Metal ballot box
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