Published October 1968 — Download PDF of the original newspaper column
From the Office of United States Senator Robert C. Byrd 105 Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20510 October 25, 1968 Volume VIII - Number 43 Byrd's Eye View A Public Service Column By U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd VOTING RITES American voting procedure has come a long way from the days of the New England town meeting when issues were decided in an open forum followed by a show of hands or a tally of the yeas and nays. Today, in some areas, votes are counted by a computer which can process more than 600 ballots a minute. These changes have been brought about by technology allied with a desire to safeguard the secrecy of the individual ballot and guard against widespread vote fraud. Though paper ballots have been used in the United States since 1629, voting by state printed secret ballot was not formally introduced into this country until the latter half of the 19th century. This was known as the Australian ballot, for the country of its origin. The Australian system was first applied in Kentucky and Massachusetts in 1888. By 1889, it had spread to Indiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Rhode Island, Tennessee, and Wisconsin. In 1891, it was adopted in West Virginia. Only one year after that date, the first voting machines were used in America. They were built by Jacob C. Myers, a New York safe manufacturer. Today, voting machines are legal in all 50 states and their use will account for 65 percent of the votes cast in the upcoming Presidential election. Interestingly, however, more than half of the country's 168,000 voting precincts still use paper ballots. There are several types of voting machines on the market. They cost between $1,500 and $2,000 apiece. The two most common involve voting booths in which the voter is shielded from view by a curtain, and he flips levers beside the names of the candidates of his choice. The vote is registered when the curtain is drawn open. At that time the levers also spring back to their original position. At the close of voting, the tallies on each of the voting machines are added up. Newer types of voting devices speed the tallying even further. One system uses IBM cards. Each voter receives a card which he places in a special tray. Atop the tray is a booklet which contains the names of the candidates on different pages. As each page is turned, another portion of the card is exposed and the voter punches a small hole in the card next to the name of the candidate of his choice. At the close of voting, the punched cards are collected and taken to a computer for rapid processing. Voting machines have proved superior to paper ballots for several reasons. Not only are they faster to process, but also fewer people are needed at polling places. Further, they are virtually 100 percent accurate and almost 100 percent fraud-proof. However, no matter how a person's vote is cast, whether by machine, or by paper ballot, the American voter ought to give careful thought to the choices he makes. In the Presidential race this year, the destiny of not only our country but also of the entire world, rests, in large measure, on the choice made.