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ballot, means of voting for candidates for office. The choice may be indicated on or by the ballot forms themselves—e.g., colored balls (hence the term ballot, which is derived from the Italian ballotta, meaning "little ball" ), printed tickets, or mechanical or electronic devices—or by the depositories into which the ballots are put.

The ballot was used in Athens in the 5th cent. BC by the popular courts and, on the question of ostracism, by the people as a whole; in India before 300 BC; and in Rome by the popular assemblies and occasionally by the senate. Ballots were not used during the Middle Ages, but reappeared in the Italian communes and in elections to the papacy during the 13th cent. In the 16th and 17th cent. the ballot appeared in English borough and university elections.

The General Court of Massachusetts elected governors by ballot after 1634; corn and beans were occasionally used as ballots. Early American ballots were known as "papers" : the name ballot does not occur in America before 1676. The British colonies in America were the first to elect representatives by secret ballot, and its use was made obligatory in all but one of the state constitutions adopted in the United States between 1776 and 1780. In the 19th cent. the use of the ballot became widespread in local and national elections in Europe.

Groups wishing to intimidate popular governance have opposed the ballot. The effort to reform election abuses led to the widespread use of the Australian ballot, which was adopted in Victoria in 1857, in Great Britain in 1872, and grew increasingly popular in the United States after 1888. In the latter country it gradually replaced earlier methods of voting such as the lengthy "tickets" distributed by political parties. In the Australian system all candidates' names are printed on a single ballot and placed in the polling places at public expense, and the printing, distribution, and marking of the ballot are protected by law, thus assuring a secret vote.

The Australian ballot is now used in many European countries and in almost all sections of the United States. Separate ballots are frequently distributed for referendums and constitutional propositions. Mechanical, computerized, electronic, or optically scannable means of voting (see voting machine) are now used to record about 90% of all votes in the United States. Estonia used an Internet website as alternative means of voting for local candidates in 2005 and national candidates in 2007. The institution of official ballots and the use of voting machines have helped bring political parties under the scope of the law.

Some critics have denounced the excessive length of the United States ballots, claiming that voters are thus too pressed for time in their decisions. The use of the presidential short ballot, listing only the candidates, not the electors pledged to them, has not much alleviated this problem.

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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 .

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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’.