Smithsonian Adds Votomatic To Presidential Collections

November 5, 2001
The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History will add a Votomatic voting machine to its collections on Nov. 7 during a Palm Beach County, Fla. ceremony. In addition to the machine, the county will donate one of the "butterfly ballots" at issue in the contested presidential election last year. In addition, the museum will accept early prototypes of the Votomatic machine from the Institute of Governmental Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. The builder of the prototypes, William K. Rouverol, of the Berkeley Engineering Department, will participate in an oral history project to discuss the early 1960s invention of the punch card voting system by Joseph K. Harris, then a professor emeritus of government studies at the university. "The Votomatic is part of the machinery of American democracy," said William L. Bird, curator of political history at the museum. "In a political era of focus groups and political polling, the 2000 presidential election brought the voter into the spotlight. We learned that the saying ‘every vote counts’ is true. " Other objects related to the presidential election recount, already in the museum’s collections include protest signs, T-shirts and the magnifying glass used by Broward County Canvassing Board member, Circuit Judge Robert A. Rosenberg. The Votomatic and its prototypes will be added to the museum’s Political History Collection, which includes more than 90,000 objects and dates back to the American Revolutionary War era. They join a collection of ballot boxes, optical scan devices, geared voting machines and other examples of the evolution of American democracy and the vote. "The Smithsonian preserves materials that help us explain and illustrate the country’s presidential elections. The Votomatic symbolizes both one of the country’s most historic events and the electoral process in America," said Spencer R. Crew, director of the National Museum of American History. The Votomatic was introduced in Oregon and California in 1962. Punch card systems, dominated by the Votomatic remain in use throughout the United States in approximately one-fifth of all election districts. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- The National Museum of American History traces American heritage through exhibitions of social, cultural, scientific and technological history. Collections are displayed in exhibitions that interpret the American experience from Colonial times to the present. The museum is located at 14th Street and Constitution Avenue N.W., and is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., except Dec. 25. For more information, visit the museum’s Web site at http://americanhistory.si.edu or call (202) 633-1000.