A Vote, A Voice

When it was established, the United States of America boasted more eligible voters than ever before. But it was still just a fraction of the new country’s population. The nation’s founders never envisioned the numbers, classes, sexes, and races of Americans that cast ballots each Election Day. They envisioned a world in which propertied men rose above self-interest and voted on behalf of the rest of “the people.” Many of “the people,” however, showed a stubborn desire to vote directly to choose their leaders and laws. The result has been reluctant adjustments, contentious struggles, and ongoing negotiations as groups tried to persuade lawmakers, the courts, and their fellow citizens to let them share the power of the polls.

Alison Turnbull Hopkins pickets the White House, 1917

Alison Turnbull Hopkins pickets the White House, 1917

Courtesy of The National Woman’s Party at the Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument

You Want to Vote?

Automatic voting machine, 1898

We stand in line with friends, neighbors, allies, and rivals. Sometimes silent, sometimes chatting, maybe even discussing the candidates we’re waiting to decide between. But our final vote, whether it’s behind a curtain or a cardboard screen, is a private moment. By the 1890s voting had moved from a public declaration to a secret ballot. This machine’s gear mechanism and curtain were designed to ensure accuracy, security, and privacy.

Gift of Rockwell Manufacturing Company Automatic Voting Machine Division

View object record

Voters’ motivations are as varied as their circumstances and experiences. Some vote to support or change their laws and leaders. Others are motivated by a sense of duty. Many see their first vote as a rite of passage or the final mark of adulthood and American citizenship. Whatever their reasons, Americans who stand in line at the polls make a personal decision to participate in hopes of bettering their lives and their country.

A Sign of Citizenship, 1952

A Sign of Citizenship, 1952

Irene Lourdes, a Chinese American preparing to vote in New York City.

Courtesy of Arthur Sasse ©Bettmann/CORBIS

An Expression of Power, 2006

An Expression of Power, 2006

Participants in an immigration rights demonstration plan to back their beliefs with their ballots in an Arizona election.

Courtesy of Matt York/Associated Press

A Community Event, 2012

A Community Event, 2012

Voters in Dixville Notch, New Hampshire, traditionally gather together to cast the first ballots in the New Hampshire primary shortly after midnight on Election Day.

Courtesy of ©HERB SWANSON/epa/Corbis

Why Do You Vote?

 

 

Why do you vote? In this short film, a group of museum visitors reflects on why they vote, what it means to them, and how voting affects the nation's democracy.