19th Century Ballot Reform in California: A Study of the Huntington Library's Political Ephemera Collection

Working Paper No.: 
Date Published: 
Melanie Goodrich

Ballot reform is an important part of the American political process. During
the 1800’s, ballots changed drastically. At the beginning of the century, voters
wrote the names of the candidates for whom they wished to vote on a piece of paper
and put that piece of paper into the ballot box. Legislation followed that allowed
voters to cast professionally printed ballots, which opened the door to political
parties providing their supporters with pre-printed ballots to cast. Towards the close
of the century, the Australian ballot, also known as the secret ballot, was introduced
to America and over a two decade transition period was implemented nationwide.
Each of these reforms caused controversey and threatened the political system by
introducing new methods for committing fraud. By studying the Political Ephemeral
Collection at the Huntington Library, it is possible to see how the ballots actually
changed over the years as new laws were passed. Studying how ballot reform laws
impacted ballot design and voting patterns in the past can aid in determining how
modern day ballot reform legislation may impact the political scene in America.

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