The collection of election ballots at the American Antiquarian Society is an impressive group of 952 items spanning the nineteenth through the early twentieth centuries. Several of these are individual ballots for specific elections, others are completely uncut; some are annotated, others are marked-up canvassing sheets (with sample tickets) or are comprised of paste downs. Some tickets are from parties as well-known as the Republican or as unfamiliar as the Peace. While separate ballots have not been individually cataloged, the collection has been digitized in its entirety, organized and inventoried. You will find links to each box/folder here.
The collection is considered part of the Society’s Graphic Arts, ephemera collection; some early examples feature wood cut illustrations and letterpress on wove paper, and towards the end of the nineteenth century they became sophisticated printing jobs and important political prints in their own right. The images on many of these tickets encompass (and now evoke) many of the key emotions in the political process – pride, shame, innovation, engagement, and deception. Take for instance the pleasure of J.R. Marble, who wrote on the reverse of his Rhode Island National Union Republican Ticket “I voted the Ticket April 6th, 1874 at Slatersville, R.I it being the first time I ever exercised the right to vote after coming of age.”
Sometimes when we think about the history of the country it is in terms of the “Big Documents” – the Constitution of the United States, the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights – documents which are actually embedded in the images of some of these very election ballots (such as this one from Ward 24 Mechanics’ Hall Citizens’ Ticket). And yet, looking over the collection as a whole, it seems these little slips of paper – when combined – have more at stake in their contents and eventual outcome. Ephemeral, yes, but also extremely powerful. We release them here for your perusal, insights and thoughts.