This Day in the Law
February 14

Congress Approves the Use of Voting Machines (1899)

On February 14, 1899, the United States Congress approved the use of voting machines in general elections.

The first recorded use of paper ballots in the United States was at a church in 1629. Since that time, manually marked and counted paper ballots were the only method of voting. Concerns were first raised over the use of manually counted ballots by the Chartists, a working class labor movement. They felt that there was a lack of privacy inherent in the voting process because voters were watched closely during the process to ensure that they were only casting one vote.

The first proposal for the use of a voting machine was by the Chartists in 1838. After that, several machines were developed, and a few patents were even issued. The early machines used everything from brass balls to switchboards in order to tabulate votes. However, none of the machines were deemed suitable for actual use in a general election.

In 1881, Anthony Beranek of Chicago, Illinois patented the first voting machine that was found appropriate for use in a general election in the United States. Beranek's machine used push buttons to count votes. There were interlocks behind the buttons which prevented voting for more than one candidate. There were also interlocks in the door of the voting booth which reset the machine for the next voter.

This machine was approved by Congress on February 14, 1899 for use in the general election. Since then, voting machines have been used in virtually every election in the United States. Today, new and better technologies for voting machines are still being developed, including a machine that tabulates votes through an optical scan!