I thought today’s Bag of Randomness should focus on the history of voting in the U.S. The following are notes I jotted down from the Throughline episode How We Vote. There are a lot of fun tidbits I think you’ll enjoy.
- IN 1757 George Washington ran for a seat in the House of burgesses. To encourage his neighbors to vote for him, he threw a party at the time of the election which included 46-gallons of beer a hogshead, a barrel of rum punch, thirty-five gallons of wine, forty-three gallons of strong beer, 2 gallons of cider, and three-and-a half pints of brandy.
- Voting was a very public event in those times. It would not be uncommon to see fiddling, wrestling matches, dancing, feasting and shouting. The tradition ritual was for each candidate to stand on a platform, and they would await for each voter to stand up and verbally announce who they were voting for. Many who announced their votes were subject to all sorts of intimidation. Imagine doing a recount in those times. It gives a new meaning to, “Your vote, your voice.”
- Voting was very open and very public. Your vote was known to the public because it was for the public.
- Sometimes voting occurred at the town square or town common. People would simply move to one area or another depending on their voting preference. The voting administers would then count the tops of everyone’s head, a process they called “polling” and that’s how we got the term we use today.
- Sometimes people simply placed an object, like a marble, pebble, dried corn kernels or beans, or whatever they had around, into a box.
- In more literate areas, voters would write on a sheet of paper they brought and dropped it in a box. So during this period, there were various forms of voting, from paper to dried beans.
- The president wasn’t chosen by popular vote, the framers didn’t really care how the public voted one way or another, they left it up to the states.
- The party system emerged in 1796. For perspective, Washington’s first term was 1789.
- Parties wanted to maximize the number of voters they could reach and relied on the best technology of the time – the printing press. In the 1820s, paper was suddenly becoming more economical to produce, and the cost to win a voter dropped. They no longer relied on a voter to bring his own piece of paper to write the name of the candidate and drop it in a box. Newspapers were really partisan back then and ballots were printed in them. Voters would cut out the ballot, mark their candidate preference with a writing utensil, and dropped it off at a polling place.
- By the late 1820s, most states adopted universal white male suffrage. Voters no longer needed land or money to vote, they just had to be white and be a male.
- People started to call the ballots party tickets because they looked like a railroad ticket. They later became huge pieces and easily spotted. Some party bosses hired henchmen to spot people carrying the large colored party ballot and intimidate them. It was called shoulder striking.
- The famous case of how out of control this got involved George Kyle of Baltimore, who was going to vote with his brother. He was a Democrate and lived in a neighborhood dominated by the opposition, the American Party, back in 1859. A man tried to snatch the ballots out of his hands and suddenly shots are fired and they kill his brother. An investigation ensued, and the question was asked, “Can a man of ordinary courage be able to cast his vote that day?” There was an implication that the Kyle brothers were cowards.
- People later realized they could use their votes for something other than voting, they could use it to eat. Poor men would show up to the polling place and ask each side what they would give them for their vote. It was industrial America with a very poor underclass. So, sometimes votes were won with nothing more than a sandwich. People in power were watching. Factory owners could easily see who their workers were voting for. Jobs were loss because the rich fired the poor for not voting their preference.
- During the Civil War, it fell to the states if and how soldiers would vote. This is when some states started absentee voting. Voting boxes were taken to battle camps, and soldiers were able to cast a ballot. Other states allowed proxies voting. For instance, a soldier from New York. He would enclose in an envelope his ballot along with a document authorizing the ballot and signed an affidavit. That envelope was placed into a special envelope, which indicated it was a soldier’s vote. Both political parties claimed fraud.
- In 1888, Massachusetts was the first state to adopt the secret ballot – “a voting method in which a voter’s choices in an election or a referendum are anonymous. This forestalls attempts to influence the voter by intimidation, blackmailing, and potential vote buying. This system is one means of achieving the goal of political privacy.”
- The 15th Amendment granting African-American men the right to vote was adopted into the U.S. Constitution in 1870. Despite the amendment, by the late 1870s discriminatory practices were used to prevent blacks from exercising their right to vote, especially in the South. It wasn’t until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that legal barriers were outlawed at the state and local levels if they denied African-Americans their right to vote under the 15th Amendment.
- On Aug. 26, 1920, the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution officially took effect when Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby signed a proclamation certifying its ratification. The amendment promised women that their right to vote would “not be denied” on account of sex.
On Election Day 1960, VP Richard Nixon briefly left the country for Tijuana, Mexico: pic.twitter.com/3oKWGN2qex
— Michael Beschloss (@BeschlossDC) November 2, 2020
Here’s a bit more about his trip, which from my understanding, he made because he was mentally exhausted and just wanted to get away from everything for a little bit.
So this journey began many blocks from the Whittier polling place when Mr. Nixon and his entourage, which was a military aide and a Secret Service agent, covertly and ever oh-so discreetly away from the press jumped out of the Vice Presidential limo and into a white convertible follow-up car driven by an officer from the Los Angeles Police Department, and off they went, and most importantly, they managed to successfully ditch the press. By the way, Nixon did not just jump into the backseat and say, “let’s go,” but rather the presidential hopeful told the LAPD officer to scoot over and he, Nixon, drove the car himself…
After leaving Oceanside Mr. Nixon and company continued south on the 101 into San Diego. Well, now in San Diego and not too sure what to do or where to go Nixon mentioned he had not been to Tijuana in over 20 years. Shortly there after the man who might be elected President of the United States by the end of that day was now out of the country and in Tijuana.
Mr. Nixon and company, on advice from a Border Patrol Agent, went to have something to eat at the Old Heidelberg restaurant, which the border agent claimed was the best Mexican food in Tijuana.
Word got around Tijuana that a possible future U.S. president was in town and soon joining the presidential candidate was Tijuana Mayor Xicotencati Leyva Aleman. It was later reported that Mr. Nixon and everybody in the group ate enchiladas.
After eating enchiladas Mr. Nixon and company headed back for the states, and at the border crossing checkpoint a border agent was shocked to see who was in the car, but still had to ask, “Are you all residents of the United States?” according to Nixon aides.