From the Collections: Voting Technology

My first voting experience was the presidential election of 1988…and I was three years old. My daycare provider brought me, my infant brother, and her young daughter to the polls and a photographer from my hometown’s newspaper snapped a photo of us. I was not even tall enough to be concealed by the privacy curtain and was looking up in awe, probably mesmerized by the curtain and the lever. (My mom saved the photo, but alas could not find it in time for this blog.)

Since that first time, now being of age to actually vote, I’ve performed my democratic privilege and duty three times—via gear and lever machine, absentee ballot, and paper ballot machine. However, I don’t think I’ve been awed by how I was voting, as opposed to the meaning behind my vote, since that first time as a toddler.

But I’ve been thinking a lot about the technology I’ve voted with recently because this year’s New Perspectives on Invention and Innovation symposium, “Political Machines,” is examining the technology that has been used—and will be used—during campaigns and elections. (Though I actually had to call the DC Board of Elections and Ethics because I couldn’t remember how I voted in 2008. I was just excited to be voting in person for president for the first time!)

As you might imagine, the National Museum of American History has wonderful collections documenting the history of voting. In fact, an exhibition titled Vote! The Machinery of Democracy was on view between June 2004 and February 2005. Fortunately, that exhibition is still available online. Here I’ve pulled out just a few of the voting technologies and machines that Vote! explores.