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.
The machine is a mechanical duplicate of an Australian ballot. Candidates' names, with a lever by each, extend across the face of the machine in a curtained booth. There is a row for each party and in many states the entire party ticket may be selected by a lever at the left. After placing the indicators in position, the voter records his choice by pulling an overhead lever. This brings the indicators back to position, records and counts the vote, and throws back the curtains. In New York, voters are allowed to spend three minutes at the machines and until they pull the voting lever they can move the indicators about as much as they please. In Connecticut, where party levers are allowed, the time limit is one minute.
Smallest machines now made, selling for $860, have space for the names of 270 candidates. The largest machines will record the votes of nine parties of 70 candidates each, at the same time, provide space for voting on 35 questions or amendments. A machine of this size contains 700 counters in addition to the protective counters showing the total vote. A horizontal paper roll is included to permit the "writing" of candidates whose names do not appear on the keyboard. It is impossible to vote for two candidates for the same office and, if party watchers are alert, the total vote counter and protective counter prevent anyone voting more than once.
Advantages of machines are: (1) a mechanically accurate count, eliminating human error; (2) immediate election returns; (3) elimination of soiled and defective ballots; (4) a permanent record which eliminates expensive recounts and contests; (5) absolute secrecy assured the voter; (6) a reduction in election expenses.
These factors have caused labor unions, whose elections in the past have been matters of great dispute, to adopt the machines. Upwards of 50 unions, principally in New York, Detroit and Cleveland, rent machines for their voting. The University of Buffalo, Pennsylvania State College and George Washington University use machines for student elections.
Where machines are not used, election work is only half done when the votes are cast. They must then be counted with some clerks calling the names and others tallying them. It is a matter of many hours work in larger precincts. Though Boston has but a fifth of the New York City vote, absence of voting machines makes a complete total for the city almost a 48-hour job. A complete Chicago count takes about 24 hours. Despite an efficient police reporting system directed by Walter Gaedke, secretary of the city election commission, 10 to 12 hours are required to gather all of Milwaukee's 250,000 votes. The city tried and discarded machines in 1903. The Milwaukee Journal is urging their return as an economy measure. A day and a half is often required to count Detroit's half million votes.
In most sections, the compilation of state totals, which determines to whom the important electoral votes go, are left to the press associations, the United Press, Associated Press and the International News Service. In Texas, however, all of the client and member papers of these services cooperate in the Texas Election Bureau of which A. F. Henning is manager. A former Dallas News man and professor of journalism at Southern Methodist University, he has devised a system of reporting and counting which produces totals faster than in many smaller states. The bureau's 254 correspondents are given sets of blanks to telegraph at stages of the count to headquarters in the Dallas News. Prizes are offered for the first blank of each set received. The big test of the bureau is the Democratic primary. Last July, 53 per cent of the vast state's million votes were compiled election night. Counting will be expepedited this fall by use for the first time of 130 voting machines in Dallas.
A notable job of California vote compiling is done by the organization of Registrar William M. Kerr of Los Angeles County where registration this year totals 1,281,590, over 43 per cent of the registration of the state. Voting machines are lacking and two days are required to get in the outlying boxes but so efficient is Kerr's arrangement that the trend is usually established within two or three hours. This semi-official count is made by 40 central bureaus scattered among the 4,295 precincts. The bureaus telephone partial totals to Registrar Kerr's office and he compiles the figures for the newspapers. The length of primary ballots discourages the use of machines in California, officials say.
The three press associations compile totals at state bureaus, usually in the state capital, and these, with contests of any local or state interest eliminated, are transmitted to divisional centers. The principal of these are Atlanta, Chicago, Kansas City, San Francisco and Boston. From these centers, the figures speed to a central compiling point for the service. Until 1932, this was New York for all three systems. In that year, however, the Associated Press chose to gather the figures in Washington and will do so again this year.
The telegraph, telephone and radio all were utilized for the transmission of election news as soon as the facilities became available. Radio Station WWJ of the Detroit News broadcast the first election news in the current manner in announcing the results of the Michigan primary election Aug. 31, 1920. On Nov. 2 of the same year, the famous Westinghouse station, KDKA, broadcast news of the election of President Harding. This November virtually every broadcasting station in the country will announce election figures.