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Casting the Ballot

Nebraskans at the polls this November will mark standardized printed ballots. But this
precise regularity of ballots has not always been the case. In Nebraska's early days, a
"straight ticket" ballot, containing only partisan candidates' names, was printed by each party
county central committee. Where printing wasn't available, hand-written ballots were
devised. Ballots were carried to the polling place by the individual voter, so intimidation and
outright fraud were all too common.

If you didn't want to vote the straight ticket, you could scratch out the name of the offensive
candidate. But there was no space for write-ins. And heaven forbid that you should want to
vote for some candidates from each party! Occasionally "split tickets" with a combination of
candidates were printed by independent politicians, but these ballots were not universally

Balloting procedures were improved greatly in 1891, when the legislature adopted the
Australian Ballot Act "to promote the independence of voters, to enforce the security of the
ballot, and to provide for printing and distribution of ballots at public expense."

Still, the 1891 ballot barely resembled ours today. Slates from all parties were printed on a
single sheet, but candidates from each party were listed together in long columns. Boxes for
X's followed each candidate's name, so the discriminating voter could pick and choose, if he
were willing to go to the trouble. (Remember, in 1891 the ladies didn't have the right to
vote.) A blank column was provided for write-ins, so voters had some flexibility.

In 1897 the Legislature moved back to a more partisan approach, by passing the "blanket
ballot" law. This act provided for a circle and the emblem of a particular party to appear at
the head of each party's slate. By placing an X in the circle, the voter could easily cast his
ballot "straight." The option for choosing among columns still existed, but unsophisticated
and illiterate voters found it simpler to remember the party emblem. Marking the circle by
the Democrats' rooster, the Republicans' eagle, or the Prohibition rose quickly took care of
the citizen's obligation to exercise his franchise.

In the twentieth century the ballot was again modified, and finally the names of candidates
for a single office were placed together, with their party affiliation following their names. A
special section of the ballot still listed party slates and emblems, however, so voting the
straight ticket could still be done with one stroke. This type of ballot remained in use in
Nebraska into the 1930s. Voters wading through the long, and to some, complicated ballot of
1988 may find themselves longing for the quick and easy ballot of "the good old days."


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Last updated 14 September 2005

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