In the 19th Century, American voters had to supply their own ballots. The counties provided election clerks to count the ballots, but the voters had to write ballots using their own pen and paper. Political parties soon began printing ballots that listed all of the party’s candidates. Each party would hand out ballots at the polling places. A person could get a ballot for the party he liked and turn it in at the polling booth to vote a straight ticket. Or the voter could cross off the names of candidates he did not like.
In an example of unbelievable generosity, some parties printed ballots for opposing parties as well as their own. An anti-Federalist worker would stand outside the polls cheerfully giving out Federalist ballots to all who asked for them. The only problem was that while the ballot said Federalist in big letters at the top, the candidates on the ballot were all anti-Federalists! This trick was played over and over by all parties until the ballot we are familiar with today, the “Australian” ballot, was introduced in the 1890’s.
The Australian ballot was printed by the government and listed all the candidates running for office. It was designed to keep a voter’s choices secret so the voter would not be intimidated at the polls, and the election workers would have no chance to discard ballots of one party or the other.
Another recipe for fraud was preparing stuffed ballots. Ballots would be handed out already folded and ready to put in the ballot box. Inside the folded ballot were hidden additional ballots printed on lightweight paper. Some voters did not open the stuffed ballots and did not realize they were turning in multiple votes. Of course, the election crew had to be in on the deception, or the tissue paper ballots would be rejected.
America’s election history shows that no party is immune from the temptation to obtain power by fraudulent means. It is worth noting that election fraud does not prove that Americans are more dishonest than other people—it shows instead that in America the average person’s opinion and vote are actually of value, unlike votes in many other countries.