1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Voting Machines

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
[ 217 ]

VOTING MACHINES. The complications in the voting at American elections have resulted in the invention of various machines for registering and counting the ballots. These machines are in fact mechanical Australian ballots. The necessity for them has been emphasized by election practice in many parts of the United States, where in a single election there have been from five to ten parties on the ballot, with an aggregate of four hundred or five hundred candidates, making the paper ballots large and difficult to handle. The objections to the paper ballot are further emphasized in the results obtained. The number of void and blank ballots is seldom less than 5% of the number of voters voting, and is often as high as 40%. This lost vote is often greater than the majority of the successful candidate. In close elections there is an endless dispute as to whether the disputed ballots do or do not comply with the law. The election contest and recount expenses frequently exceed the cost of holding the election, and the title of the candidates to the office is frequently held in abeyance by a protracted contest until after the term of office has expired. A number of ways have been devised for marking the Australian ballot for identification without destroying its legality. The X is a very simple and well-known mark, yet in the case of Coulehan v. White, before the Supreme Court of Maryland, twenty-seven different ways of making the mark “X” were shown in the ballots in controversy, and all of them were a subject for judicial consideration, on which the judges of even the highest court could, find room for disagreement. Wigmore in his book on the Australian ballot system points out thirteen ways of wrongly placing the mark, and forty-four errors in the style of the mark, besides many other errors tending to invalidate the ballot, all of them having frequently occurred in actual practice. These errors are not confined to the illiterates, but are just as common among the best-educated people. The ballots can and have frequently been altered or miscounted by unscrupulous election officers, and the detection of the fraud is frequently difficult and always expensive.

Voting machines were devised first by English, and later with more success by American inventors. The earlier machines of Vassic, Chamberlain, Sydserff (1869) and Davie (1870) were practically all directed toward voting for the candidates of a single office by a ball, the ball going into one compartment or the other according to the choice of the voter. The use of the ball is in accordance with the original idea of ballot, which means “a little ball”; and because of the requirement of many of the constitutions of the states of the United States, that “elections shall be by ballot,” many American inventors [ 218 ] follow this idea of using balls to indicate their votes. Others, however, maintaining that secrecy was the essential idea of voting by ballot, and that the form of the ballot was immaterial, worked on the idea of using a key and a counter for each candidate, the counter registering the successive impulses given to it by the key, the machine preventing the voter from giving the key more than one impulse, and preventing the voter from operating more keys than he is entitled to vote. The highest courts of four different American states have ruled that any form of voting machine that secured secrecy would be constitutional.

The first voting machine used in an election was the Myers Ballot Machine used at Lockport, New York, in 1892. This machine had a vertical keyboard with columns of push keys thereon, each column representing a party, and each key belonging to a candidate of that party, the keys of each horizontal line belonging to the candidates of the various parties for a particular office. The voter pushed one of the knobs in each office line, which knob operated its counter and locked all other possible votes for the same office until the voter left the booth. The operated keys were released by the operation of the second booth door as the voter left the machine, and they were then reset by springs. The doors were so arranged that the voter must first pass through one and lock it behind him before he could open the second one to get out. This both preserved secrecy and prevented repeating. Some sixty-five or more of these machines were used in the election in the city of Rochester. N.Y., in November 1896, and with marked success.

The McTammany Machine, operated by keys which punched holes in a web of paper. On this web the votes of each candidate were all punched in a single column, each separate column representing a separate candidate. The voter does not see the web, which is removed from the machine by the election officers after the election is over, and the vote thereon is canvassed by passing the web through a pneumatic counting machine. The paper web makes a separate record of each man's ballot that can be identified by a person skilled in the use of the machine. The machine is also slow in giving returns, due to the fact that the vote has to be counted after the election.

In other types of machines each candidate had a separate receptacle, into which the machine dropped a ball for each vote that was cast for the candidate. These machines have so far not been successful. The whole development of practical voting machines has been limited to those machines in which a separate counter is provided for each candidate, the counter being operated either directly or indirectly by the voter. Of this type is the Myers machine, as well as the other machines mentioned here.

The Bardwell Votometer had a separate counter for each candidate, with a single key for operating all the counters on the machine. A keyhole was provided in each counter, in which the key could be inserted, and by turning it 180° the counter was operated and the key could be removed for use in another counter. The voter could operate but one counter at a time, and could not operate the counters in very rapid succession. The limited use of this machine can be attributed principally to the slowness with which it can be worked. The voter enters this machine by raising a bar at one end, which unlocks the counters for voting operation. Raising a similar bar at the other end as the voter passes out resets the machine for the next voter and locks it.

The Abbott Machine has attained considerable use in the state of Michigan. In this machine the counters for each office are carried on a separate slide, and the voter moves these slides for the various offices from left to right, until the counter carrying the name of the candidate of his choice in each office row is lined up with the operating bar. The vertical movement of the operating bar counts the vote on each of these slides, rings a bell, which notifies the election officer that a vote has been cast, and locks the machine against further voting. The election officer then moves a slide which resets the machine for the next voter. The machine is limited in its application because two or more candidates on the same office line cannot be voted for by the same voter, although the voter may be entitled to vote for more than one candidate.

The U.S. Standard Voting Machine has had the most extensive use of any. A separate key is provided for each candidate, which keys are arranged on the keyboard of the machine in horizontal party rows and vertical office lines. Each key is shaped like a small pointer, which extends to the right from its pivot, and passes through the keyboard. The key swings downward from horizontal position and points to the name of the candidate below it. The keys are lettered consecutively by party rows, and numbered by office rows, so that each key bears a number and a letter distinguishing it from all others. At the left of each party row is a party lever, by the movement of which all of the keys in that party row are simultaneously placed in voted position. In states that do not have party circles on the ballot these levers are omitted. Extending outward from the top of the machine is a rail, from which is suspended a curtain. Pivoted in the middle of the top of the machine is a lever, which extends outwardly and has a loose connexion with a curtain. The operation of the lever by a convenient handle enables the voter to close the curtain and unlock the machine for voting, after which the voter cannot retire from the machine until he has voted on the machine to a certain extent. The operation of any one of the party levers rings a bell to show that he has voted, and permits the reverse movement of the curtain lever, which counts the vote, resets the machine for the next voter and opens the curtain. Before opening the curtain the vote is not counted, and the voter can take back or change his vote. Repeating is prevented by a knob on the end of the machine, which locks the curtain lever against a second movement until it is released by the election officer. At the top of the machine is a paper roll on which the voter can write the names of candidates whose names do not appear on the machine in connexion with keys. This roll is concealed by slides, one for each office line of keys, which slides must be lifted to expose the paper. An interlocking mechanism controls all the voting devices so that the voter cannot vote more than he is entitled to vote. These machines have been built large enough to provide for seven parties of sixty candidates each, and for thirty questions and amendments, a machine of such size carrying 480 counters, besides the total vote and protective counters.

Ths Dean Machine has its keyboard placed horizontally, the keys being push buttons, which are arranged in party columns and transverse office rows. Party levers are provided by which the keys of the party are moved to voted position. Considerable stress is laid on the small keyboard of this machine, the peculiar type of counter used on it, and the separate card ballot for voting for unnominated candidates.

Each state that adopts voting machines first enacts a law specifying the requirements that must be met in the construction of the machines. These requirements are substantially the same in all the states, the laws being copied largely from the New York Voting Machine Law. The laws require in general that the machine shall give the voter all the facilities for expressing his choice which the Australian ballot gives him, and further require that the machine shall prevent those mistakes or frauds, which if made on an Australian ballot would invalidate it.

Many of the states have special requirements, to meet which many ingenious features have been provided on the various machines. Among these is the group of 18 supervisors in San Francisco, for which office as many as 108 candidates have appeared upon one ballot, out of which the machine must permit the voter to vote any 18 and no more, regardless of the sequence in which they are selected, or the position in which they occur.

Another of these local features is the primary election feature required by Minnesota, in which state the various parties must hold their primary election at the same time and on the same machine. The voter announcing the party of his preference finds the voting devices on the machine of all other parties locked against him, but the voting devices of his own party are open to his use.

Still another is the lockout, by which the voter of limited voting franchises is prevented from voting for the candidates of certain offices. Another is the endorsed candidate in a group. Here the same candidate's name is provided with two or more voting devices in a group wherein the voter is allowed to vote for two or more candidates. Special provision must then be made to keep voters from voting twice for the same candidate.

As to the important benefits attending the use of machines, there can be mentioned accuracy both in the casting and the counting of the vote, speed in getting in returns, and economy in holding elections. The improvement in accuracy is shown by the fact that the vote for each office usually runs 99% or more of the highest possible vote that could be registered by the number of voters that have voted. Speed is shown by the fact that in the city of Buffalo, with 60,000 voters voting on election day, the complete returns, including the vote on over 100 candidates for the whole city, have been collected, tabulated and announced within 75 minutes from the closing of the polls, Economy is shown by the fact that although these machines are used but one or two days in each year, election expenses are reduced to such an extent that the machines pay for themselves in five or six elections. This is partly due to the smaller number of precincts necessary and the smaller number of election officers in each precinct and the shorter hours that they must work. The city of Buffalo has a dozen or more precincts, in each of which 800 voters or more are voted in an election day of ten hours, and in that city as many as 1041 voters have voted in one election day on one machine.

(F. Ke.)