The Magic Ballot


Although winning a majority of the popular vote, the Democratic President Grover Cleveland was defeated for re-election by the loss of Indiana, where the national Republican treasurer was caught buying votes wholesale, in blocks of five. Famed for his integrity and now seemingly martyred by ballot abuses, “Grover the Good” touched a national nerve in 1889 when he endorsed the ballot-reform movement. By the next election, in 1892, thirty-eight states had adopted Australian ballots, and Cleveland was returned to the White House. By 1910 only Georgia and South Carolina still held to the old ways. The modern voting machine, introduced in 1892, further safeguarded the vote, but paper ballots continued to be used as late as the 1960 presidential election.

For the most part, electoral magic tricks went out of the old ballots a century ago; we value them today for their historical content, their handsome graphics, and their highly imaginative propaganda that conjure up America’s untamed political past.