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Voting the Party Ticket

84_009_1_democratic_ticket_1888_284_009_2_republican_ticket_1888_6Have you ever wondered why candidates are referred to as being on their party's "ticket"?

Jill Lepore's recent article in the New Yorker, Rock, Paper, Scissors: How We Used To Vote, is a mini crash-course on the history of voting at the polls in the United States that got me thinking about party tickets.

The history of the word "ticket," in the political party sense, is tied up in the history of how voting was done in the 19th century. Like many words and phrases, the "party ticket" has survived long past the practice itself, but it's a word that carries with it the reminder of how elections were conducted in the past. And while the practice may no longer survive, the physical tickets themselves do. In our Archives collection we have two such tickets, both of which are from the 1888 presidential election, and both of which can be seen here.

Up until the 1890s in the U.S., when a voter showed up at the polls on election day, he didn't receive a blank ballot with the names of the candidates printed on it. Instead, he showed up with his own ballot, which he had either written up beforehand, or wrote up when he got to the polls, or which he had gotten from a political party that had them handwritten, and later pre-printed or clipped from the newspaper. (A brief aside: a U.S. voter in the 19th century - indeed, up until 1920 - was always a "he." Interested in the history of suffrage - voting rights - in the USA? You might start here.)

Our interest today is in those pre-printed ballots, like the two seen here. It's because of these ballots which listed all of a political party's candidates for a particular election - and the ballots' resemblence to train tickets - that this meaning of the term "ticket" came into use. The ticket, like a ballot you see when you go into a voting booth today, would cover both local offices and national offices. In the two tickets seen here, which were printed for voters in Middlesex County in Massachusetts, you can see that both presidential candidates - Grover Cleveland and Benjamin Harrison - as well as candidates for various local offices are listed. (Another brief aside: This election was one of four memorable elections - the others being in 1824, 1876, and 2000 - when the candidate who won the popular vote, lost in the electoral college vote, and therefore did not become president. In this case, Cleveland won the popular vote, but Harrison won the vote in the electoral college, and became president. Cleveland, you might remember, is the only president to serve two non-consecutive terms; his defeat by Harrison in 1888 ushered in the four years that separate his two terms in office.)

The tickets seen above are especially interesting because they are from the last election in Massachusetts to use tickets printed by political parties. With the passage of An Act to Provide For Printing and Distributing Ballots at the Public Expense, and to Regulate Voting at State and City Elections in 1888, which took effect in November 1889, the Massachusetts state government became responsible for printing the so-called Australian ballot, the ballot familiar to us today, in which all candidates are listed for each office and we select - by checking a box, filling in a circle, moving a lever, punching a hole, or touching a screen - which candidate we are voting for.

(And if you're disappointed that we didn't talk about third party candidates here, check out our earlier post on the first major third party in U.S. presidential politics.)

Both tickets above are from our Archives collection:

Democratic Ticket for 1888 Election. USM 001.126
Republican Ticket for 1888 Election. USM 001.127


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