Paper Ballots
For most of the 19th century, political parties controlled the printing and distribution of paper ballots, also known as party tickets. State election laws typically specified the dimensions and thickness of the paper and the size of type to be used.
The rest was left to the issuing parties, local party operatives, and candidates. This resulted in various ballot forms and styles—and a potential for confusion and fraud.

The First Vote, Harper's Weekly

Following the Civil War, African American males won the right to vote with passage of the 15th Amendment.

When Southern whites regained control of their state governments at the end of Reconstruction, they put in place restrictive suffrage measures designed to prevent African Americans - and often poor whites - from voting. The new obstacles included poll taxes, property taxes, literacy tests, and long residency requirements. In this woodcut from the November 1867 Harper's Weekly, Virginia freedmen vote for the first time.

Photo of The First Vote, Harper's Weekly
Enlarge photo of The First Vote, Harper's Weekly
Photo of Vermont circular
Enlarge photo of Vermont circular

Vermont circular

This circular warns voters away from "spurious and deceptive" party tickets in Vermont, 1816.

Ballot, Free Soil ticket

Maryland Free Soil party ticket, 1848

Photo of Ballot Free Soil ticket
Enlarge photo of Ballot Free Soil ticket
Photo of Stuffer's ballot box
Enlarge photo of Stuffer's ballot box

Stuffer's ballot box

Some ballot boxes actually helped commit outright fraud. This dishonest "stuffer's ballot box," featured in Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper in 1856, concealed a sliding false bottom and side. These panels hid party ticket ballots, which were added to legitimate ballots deposited by voters-all without tampering with the lock.

Counting the vote, New Orleans

Counting the vote at Elephant Johnnie's, a New Orleans bar and polling place, from Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, December 2, 1876

Photo of Counting the vote, New Orleans
Enlarge photo of Counting the vote, New Orleans
Photo of Glass globe ballot jar
Enlarge photo of Glass globe ballot jar

Glass globe ballot jar

Like the slot-top wooden ballot box, this 1884 box with a glass chamber is typical of the devices used to secure single party tickets. The image of the glass ballot box became a symbol of democratic self-government.

Thomas Nast cartoon

Thomas Nast's "The Coming Crown," Harper's Weekly, May 15, 1880

Photo of Thomas Nast cartoon
Enlarge photo of Thomas Nast cartoon
Photo of Puck Illustration
Enlarge photo of Puck Illustration

Puck Illustration

"American Invention for Blowing Up Bosses," Puck, November 16, 1881

Pennsylvania soldiers voting

Union soldiers from Pennsylvania cast absentee ballots, 1864. By lowering the voting age from 21 to 18 and relaxing property ownership requirements, parties sought to attract more voters during the Civil War and Reconstruction and in periods of high immigration.

Civil War polling books

These poll books recorded the names of Crawford County, Pennsylvania, soldiers who cast absentee ballots for presidential electors during the
Civil War.

Photo of Pennsylvania Soldiers Voting
Enlarge photo of Pennsylvania Soldiers Voting
Photo of Civil War polling books
Enlarge photo Civil War polling books
Photo of Sheet of Union Party tickets
Enlarge photo of Sheet of Union Party tickets

Sheet of Union Party tickets

Multiple party ticket ballots were printed on large sheets of paper, to be cut up later for voters. This sometimes allowed dishonest voters or party operatives to cast two or more votes at a time.

Paste pot and paster ballot

Many state election laws allowed voters to modify party tickets. Voters could "split" their ticket by scratching out the name of one candidate and writing in another, or by gluing on a strip of paper (called a paster) printed with the name of yet another person.

Ballot, Democratic Party

This is an 1888 New Hampshire Democratic ballot for Grover Cleveland. Look closely: "Hiram N. Hayward" is pasted for County Commissioner, at the bottom of this ballot.

Photo of Paste pot and paster ballot
Enlarge photo of Paste pot and paster ballot
Photo of Ballot Democratic Party
Enlarge photo of Ballot Democratic Party
Photo of Ballot Republican and Independent ticket
Enlarge photo of Ballot Republican and Independent ticket

Ballot, Republican and Independent ticket

Although Democrat Grover Cleveland is this ticket's presidential candidate, its headline might mislead Republicans and Independents to think otherwise. Candidate "George Cushing" is pasted in for Representative to General Court.

Ballot, Union (Republican Party) presidential ticket, Ohio, 1864

More than the distinguishing marks of party symbols and candidate portraits, color helped party observers identify ballots as they were cast—and who cast them. Voting was still not entirely secret.

Photo of Ballot Union presidential ticket (Republican Party) Union presidential ticket, Ohio, 1864
Enlarge photo of Ballot Union presidential ticket (Republican Party) Union presidential ticket, Ohio, 1864
Photo of Ballot Virginia Constitutional Union ticket
Enlarge photo of Ballot Virginia Constitutional Union ticket

Ballot, Virginia Constitutional Union ticket

Constitutional Union Party ticket, Virginia, 1860

Ballot, Regular Republican ticket

The introduction of a complex color scheme distinguished the official ballot of the Regular Republican ticket in Massachusetts in 1878.

Photo of Ballot Regular Republican ticket
Enlarge photo of Ballot Regular Republican ticket