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1936: Counting America's 40,000,000 Votes

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FAIR USE NOTICE: This paper contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. I am making such material available in my effort to advance understanding of voting system issues. I believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the U.S. Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. ยง107, the material in this paper is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this paper for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

For the full pictorial spread of this article, including a much clearer photo of a clay ballot from ancient Greece, click here. An equally poor facsimile of the "up-to-the-minute" 1936 mechanical lever voting machine from the 1936 article is produced below. The remaining lever photos are from my own collection, and show the historical development of the lever voting machine.



Ancient Athenian clay ballot cast secretly when exiling a citizen

The Automatic Voting Machine Corporation highlighted in this article produced "nearly all the [lever] machines" used in 1936. Through the convoluted morph of corporate ownership and name changes, the firm was bought; renamed; sold and renamed again, now infamously known as Sequoia Voting Systems, whose software driven machines failed spectacularly this year in New Jersey, Washington, D.C. and Palm Beach County, Florida. Sequoia tries to claim some of the glory of lever reliability simply because Sequoia bought the company that bought AVM. That's like me claiming to be a world explorer because my ancestor, William Bradford, sailed here on the Mayflower.

AVM made such a superior product that it ran itself out of business, since the machines, once purchased, required only occasional minor parts to maintain. In fact, the sixty-year-old lever machines in use in New York today "will last another hundred years," reported a lever technician. From his lips to God's ears. Lever lovers have launched a campaign to save them, having rejected the software driven systems that provide us with secret vote counting on software that can be altered without detection.

In the article title, writer Tom Mahoney confuses ballots with votes. A single ballot can contain several votes depending on the number of races and issues a voter faces. His article is fascinating and important for all those involved in election research.

COUNTING AMERICA'S 40,000,000 VOTES
Modern Mechanix Hobbies & Inventions, November 1936
By Tom Mahoney

NEWS of the election of George Washington as first president of the United States was borne by stagecoach in 1789 throughout the country in about three weeks. Barring a close division of the 40,000,000 voters, the outcome of the current contest of .Franklin D. Roosevelt and Alfred M. Landon will be made known to a far vaster country in about three hours after the polls close on Nov. 3. This miracle is made possible by the inclusion unofficially in the archaic Electoral system, itself little changed since Washington's day, of every device evolved for the counting of votes and the transmission of results. Ingenious voting machines record and count votes at the same time. Adding machines produce instant totals. Motorcycles, telegraph lines, telephones, press association wires, newspapers, and radio stations distribute the results at a speed unequalled in any other country.


1899 mechanical lever voting machine (Rady Ananda)

Registration figures in cities where this is required indicate that at least a million, possibly four million, more citizens than the 39,816,522 who voted in 1932 will vote this fall. Chicago has a registration this fall of 1,612,173 against 1,429,774 in 1932. In Philadelphia, the figure has increased from 646,564 to 808,644. Milwaukee, Buffalo and San Francisco have record registrations. Counting machinery, however, has increased with the voters. There will be more voting machines in use this fall than ever before. Election figures are born in the east and speed westward faster than the sun. The Massachusetts village of New Ashford takes pride in being the first community in the country to report its vote. In the face of competition from Mount Washington and other neighbors, New Ashford has been first with figures for the last five Presidential elections. In 1932, two of New Bedford's 34 voters were in the hospital but the remainder began to vote at 5:45 a. m. and at 6:28 a. m., two minutes earlier than in 1928, and while most citizens were still in bed, the count: Hoover 30, Roosevelt 8, was flashed to the country.


1936 lever voting machine (Modern Mechanix)

Figures from other small points appear on the wires in the course of the day but the first totals of great importance come from the city and state of New York. The election is decided by electoral votes, one for each Senator and Representative, and New York State has 47 of these, the most of any state. In 20 years no candidate has lost New York and won a presidential election.

All of New York City's 2,225,000 votes are recorded by 4,300 voting machines and something like four-fifths of the 2,000,000 upstate residents vote in the same manner. In the metropolis, policemen stationed at each voting place rush the totals to precinct stations where reporters for the City News Association, the local news gathering organization of the New York newspapers, collate them and transmit them to the newspaper offices. So rapidly is this done that most of the figures are known within an hour or two after the polls close and the complete results are known before midnight. Police help on the upstate figures. In Buffalo, motorcycle officers speed from the edge to the center of the city snatching sheets of totals as they ride. With candidates numerous, and over 218,000 voting, the complete Buffalo vote has been compiled in less than 90 minutes.


1956 New Yorker cover (Arthur Getz), collecting vote totals from a lever machine

The New York totals are made possible by the voting machines. Though used in the metropolis only since 1925, the state has long been the center of voting machine development and use. The first machine used, then known as the Myers Ballot machine, made its appearance in Lockport, N. Y., home of the maker in 1892. Two years later, Rochester and Cazenovia, N. Y., tried the experiment. Buffalo and three more cities followed in 1899. At present 95 per cent of the 30,000 machines in service in 3,500 communities throughout the country are products of the Jamestown, N. Y., factory of the Automatic Voting Machine Corporation.


Lever machine circa 1960s

Voting methods underwent few changes in the 25 centuries prior to the development of the voting machines. Assemblies in ancient Sparta announced their opinions by shouting and beating on shields. Athenians of 500 B. C. voted by a show of hands except on the question of exiling a citizen deemed dangerous to the state. In this case, a secret vote was recorded on a clay ballot. Excavators of the American School of Classical Studies recently uncovered 150 of these at Athens, several bearing the names of Aristides. Early Romans used wax-covered slips of wood as ballots.

Early American voting was about as public as that of Greece and Rome. Up to around 1890 most polling places were surrounded by persuasive and often belligerent persons who forced party ballots on the voter and watched him put them in the box. Employers and political bosses stood about to intimidate the voter. The Australian ballot, so-called because it was first used in South Australia in 1856, substituted a single official one for the many ballots and provided secrecy for its casting. At least five per cent of the ballots under this system, however, are almost invariably improperly marked and are supposed to be thrown out. The possibility of error or fraud, and the unavoidable delay of counting persisted.

Inventors of the voting machine undertook to eliminate these factors. First man to give the problem attention appears to have been Jan Josef Baranowski in Paris, France, in 1849. He suggested that adding machine principles be applied to voting and that a closet be provided in which the voter could make his choice by turning handles or pushing buttons opposite the names of candidates. De Brettes in that year and Werner von Siemens in 1859 in Germany constructed primitive legislative voting machines, operated mechanically to cast either white or black balls. Thomas Edison patented a crude machine in 1869. At about the same time, Vassie, Chamberlain, Sydserff and Davy produced devices in England. All involved balls which had to be counted.

Machines combining voting and counting did not appear until the last years of the 19th century. One of the first was that of Father Vito Leto, a priest at Cimmina, Sicily, with several railroad signal devices to his credit. His device was a box supported by a pedestal and divided into compartments according to the number of candidates. A fitted stylet turned the counting mechanism and a bell rang. Better machines were produced in America by Myers, Bardwell, Abbott and Dean, all using mechanical counters. One made by McTammany had a separate key for each candidate. Holes in a paper web were counted by a pneumatic machine.

These were of varying merit and a few failed so dismally that cities which tried them after 40 years refuse to use machines. The best features of the group, augmented by the notable roller interlock invented by Frank Keiper, survive today in the sturdy machine made at Jamestown. This machine contains 13,000 parts and can be manufactured only at the rate of 10 per day. When Mayor Jimmy Walker ordered 2,000 machines shipped "by airplane" to New York City in time for the 1927 city election, the factory could not supply them.

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In 2004, Rady Ananda joined the growing community of citizen journalists. Initially focused on elections, she investigated the 2004 Ohio election, organizing, training and leading several forays into counties to photograph the 2004 ballots. She officially served at three recounts, including the 2004 recount. She also organized and led the team that audited Franklin County Ohio's 2006 election, proving the number of voter signatures did not match official results. Her work appears in three books.

Her blogs also address religious, gender, sexual and racial equality, as well as environmental issues; and are sprinkled with book and film reviews on various topics. She spent most of her working life as a researcher or investigator for private lawyers, and five years as an editor.

She graduated from The Ohio State University's School of Agriculture in December 2003 with a B.S. in Natural Resources.

All material offered here is the property of Rady Ananda, copyright 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009. Permission is granted to repost, with proper attribution including the original link.

"In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act." Tell the truth anyway.

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In the town I live in - Goshen, NY - our votes are... by Tom Degan on Tuesday, Oct 28, 2008 at 5:09:13 AM

 

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