From the
Encyclopaedia Britannica, 11th Edition, 1910

Indexed on the web at

Voting Machines The complications in the voting at American elections have resulted in the invention of various machines for registering and counting the ballots. These machines are in fact mechanical Australian ballots. The necessity for them has been emphasized by election practice in many parts of the United States, where in a single election there have been from five to ten parties on the ballot, with an aggregate of four hundred or five hundred candidates, making the paper ballots large and difficult to handle. The objections to to the paper ballot are further emphasized in the results obtained. The number of void and blank ballots is seldom less than 5% of the number of voters voting, and is often as high as 40%. This lost vote is often greater than the majority of the successful candidate. In close elections there is an endless dispute as to whether the disputed ballots do or do not comply with the law. The election contest and recount expenses frequently exceed the cost of holding the election, and the title of the candidates to the office is frequently held in abeyance by a protracted contest until after the term of office has expired. A number of ways have been devised for marking the Australian ballot for identification without destroying its legality. The X is a very simple and well-known mark, yet in the case of Coulehan v. White, before the Supreme Court of Maryland, twenty-seven different ways of making the mark "X" were shown in the ballots in controversy, and all of them were a subject for judicial consideration, on which the judges of even the highest court could find room for disagreement. Wigmore in his book on the Australian ballot system points out thirteen ways of wrongly placing the mark, and forty-four errors in the style of the mark, besides many other errors tending to invalidate the ballot, all of them having frequently occurred in actual practice. These errors are not confined to illiterates, but are just as common among the best-educated people. The ballots can and have frequently been altered or miscounted by unscrupulous election officers, and the detection of the fraud is frequently difficult and always expensive.

Voting machines were devised first by English, and later with more success by American inventors. The earlier machines of Vassie, Chamberlain, Sydserff (1869) and Davie (1870) were practically all directed toward voting for the candidates of a single office by a ball, the ball going into one compartment or the other according to the choice of the voter. The use of the ball is in accordance with the original idea of ballot, which means "a little ball"; and because of the requirement of many of the constitutions of the states of the United States, that "elections shall be by ballot," many American inventors follow this idea of using balls to indicate their votes. Others, however, maintaining that secrecy was the essential idea of voting by ballot, and that the form of the ballot was immaterial, worked on the idea of using a key and a counter for each candidate, the counter registering the successive impulses given to it by the key, the machine preventing the voter from giving the key more than one impulse, and preventing the voter from operating more keys than he is entitled to vote. The highest courts of four different American states have ruled that any form of voting machine that secured secrecy would be constitutional.


As to the important benefits attending the use of machines, there can be mentioned accuracy both in the casting and the counting of the vote, speed in getting in returns, and economy in holding elections. The improvement in accuracy is shown by the fact that the vote for each office usually runs 99% or more of the highest possible vote that could be registered by the number of voters that have voted. Speed is shown by the fact that in the city of Buffalo, with 60,000 voters voting on election day, the complete returns, including the vote on over 100 candidates for the whole city, have been collected, tabulated and announced within 75 minutes from the closing of the polls. Economy is shown by the fact that although these machines are used but one or two days in each year, election expenses are reduced to such an extent that the machines pay for themselves in five or six elections. This is partly due to the smaller number of precincts necessary and the smaller number of election officers in each precinct and the shorter hours that they must work. The city of Buffalo has a dozen or more precincts, in each of which 800 voters or more are voted in an election day of ten hours, and in that city as many as 1041 voters have voted in one election day on one machine.

(F. Ke.)