A History of Voting Machines

E-voting may already be a thing of the past, but here's what led up to it

Bean Counting

In the early days of the republic, there was no widespread way to vote. In some places, citizens would vote by placing different colored beans in a container [like the Masonic one at left]. In others, they would stand on the courthouse of bank steps and shout their vote, which was recorded by a clerk.

Ballot Box

For most of the nineteenth century voters scrawled their vote on a piece of paper and stuck it in a ballot box [such as the one from c. 1900 at left]. Parties soon began passing out preprinted ballots with their slate of candidates on it.

Printed Ballots

In 1889 New York state began printing official ballots. The process soon became widespread across the United States.

Pull a Lever

Mechanical voting machines took the stage in the early and mid 20th century. Using an odometer-style counter, the machines tallied the vote each time a voter pulled a lever.

Punch Card Voting Machine

By the 1960s, punchcards with “chads” removed by poking them with a stylus became the most common voting machines in the U.S. Votes were tallied by large computers. The process was more or less problem-free until the 2000 presidential election.

Direct-Recording Voting Machine

Direct-recording electronic (DRE) voting machines came on the scene after the Help America Vote Act helped hundreds of counties buy 50,000 machines in 2002. Problems with the machines have caused them to be discarded by many states and they may be banned in federal elections.

Optical Scanning Voting Machine

Optical scanning machines, an older but fairly reliable technology, is an increasingly popular option. At least until the next great step in voting technology comes along.