My Country – Australian Ballots
In 1888, Louisville, Kentucky became the first minipicality to use the Australian Ballot. Today, we all use them. But what are they? How did we vote before?
Voting in Early America
When colonists landed in Jamestown, they decided to form a government. Within days, they elected a council and a President. Six men voted out of the 105 colonists. Quite the democracy!
Typically, white, male landowners over the age of 21 could vote. As discussed previously in Property Requirements, Voting, and the Plymouth Oration, it wasn’t until the 19th century that all white men could vote. Suffrage has not been out forte. In fact, it seems like our defining characteristic as a “democracy” has been to decide who should not vote.
At the time, a few colonies employed some form of ballot but others used public voice votes. Voice voting made ballot counts harder to rig and everyone knew your intention. “In Virginia, voice voting was a spectator event, every voter occupying center stage for a few moments.” But voter turnout was low because you had to travel and spend a lot of time to do it.
Additionally, once ballots became more common, no official ballot existed. This led to fraud and ballot box stuffing. As the parties created the ballots, people began to cheat. Since voice voting had been common and food and drink were provided at the election hall, they could also become disorderly. Lastly, employees began to fear repercussions if their employer did not like their vote. Party supervisors and bribery led to voters changing their vote to please whomever would pay them.
The Australian Ballot
What we all use today, whether on paper or a screen, is commonly known as the Australian Ballot. It has four features:
- It includes the names of the candidates lawfully nominated.
- The government printed them at the public’s expense.
- You can only receive one at the polling place.
- The voter registers their vote in a voting booth.
It is hard to imagine any other way.
Let America Vote
Unfortunately, today, like in our past, we have begun to make changes to combat “fraud.” The only difference is that the fraud does not take place. Unlike when the secret or Australian Ballot became common, no party leaders print the ballots or bribe people to vote a certain way. Now, the concerns revolve around registration and IDs.
I believe that the biggest mistake that our Founding Fathers left out of the Constitution was the right to vote. However, a group of rich, white guys did not want democracy or like democracy. But today, we have an incredibly diverse population and a very different global world than the one that took days to travel to vote.
I am a huge supporter of Jason Kander’s PAC Let America Vote. I believe that voter suppression and voter discouragement needs to end. We have the opportunity to truly become the government that our Founding Fathers dreamed about. We can hear all of our voices, not just those who have the time and money to accomplish those tasks.