views updated May 23 2018


BALLOT, a method of voting by way of a form that lists the voter's options. The ballot was preceded in early America by other methods of voting, such as by vocal statement or by letting corn or beans designate votes cast. During the early national period, the paper ballot emerged as the dominant voting method, and many states allowed the voter to make up his own ballot in the privacy of his home. Almost immediately, however, the political parties, motivated by a desire to influence the vote, started to print ballots as substitutes for handwritten ones, a practice that was constitutionally upheld by a Massachusetts Supreme Court decision in 1829. These "party strip" ballots listed only the candidates of a single party and were peddled to the voters on or before election day. Voting by such ballots was almost always done in public—contrary to the notion of a secret vote cherished today. The system of party ballots led to widespread intimidation and corruption, which were not corrected until the ballot re-form period of the 1890s.

Between 1888 and 1896, civic groups and "good government" supporters convinced over 90 percent of the states to adopt a new ballot patterned after one introduced in Australia in the 1850s to eliminate vote corruption in that country. The Australian ballot was the exact opposite of the earlier party ballots. It was prepared and distributed by the government rather than by the political parties, it placed the candidates of both major parties on the same ballot instead of on separate ballots, and it was secret. Still in use in all states at the end of the twentieth century, this type of ballot successfully eliminated much of the partisan intimidation and vote fraud that once existed; it also facilitated split-ticket voting.

During the 2000 presidential election, however, ballot irregularities and inconsistencies, particularly in the state of Florida, illustrated that significant flaws still remained in the American ballot system. Reforms, including the use of computerized ballots, were under review in many states after the Florida controversy touched off a national debate over which ballots should be used for national elections.


Evans, Eldon Cobb. A History of the Australian Ballot System in the United States. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1917.

Fredman, Lionel E. The Australian Ballot: The Story of an American Reform. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1968.

Jerrold G.Rusk/a. g.

See alsoBlocs ; Canvass ; Election Laws ; Elections ; Massachusetts Ballot ; Voter Registration .


views updated May 14 2018

bal·lot / ˈbalət/ • n. a process of voting, in writing and typically in secret: next year's primary ballot| the commissioners were elected by ballot. ∎  (the ballot) the total number of votes cast in such a process: he won 54 percent of the ballot. ∎  the piece of paper used to record someone's vote in such a process. ∎  a list of candidates or issues to be voted on: he agreed to have his name placed on California's primary ballot. ∎  the right to vote: they were a contrivance to deny the ballot to Negro voters.• v. (-lot·ed, -lot·ing) [tr.] (of an organization) elicit a secret vote from (members) on a particular issue: the union is preparing to ballot its members on the same issue.


views updated Jun 11 2018

ballot (hist.) ball, ticket, etc. used in secret voting; method of such voting, orig. by dropping a ball into a box. XVI (the earliest exx. refer to Venice). — It. ballotta, dim. of balla ball (see prec.).
So vb. XVI (cf. It. ballottare).


views updated May 21 2018

ballot Object used to cast a vote, or process of voting in an election. The word derives from the Italian ballotta (little ball) and since 5th-century bc Athens, balls have been used to cast votes. Today, the ballot is a sheet (or sheets) of paper, although in some countries voting machines are used to register votes.


views updated May 29 2018

ballot a procedure by which people vote secretly on a particular issue. The word is recorded from the mid 16th century, and originally denoted a small coloured ball placed in a container to register a vote; it comes from Italian ballotta, diminutive of balla ‘ball’.