Data from the Ballot

Until the late 1800s, Americans (that is, those who even had the right to vote) did not cast secret ballots. In some states, voters received written "tickets" listing the candidates of a party. They would deposit their preferred ticket in a box or jar. Virginia and a few other states used Viva Voce ("voice voting"). In the City of Alexandria, as Dr. Don DeBats explained at an Alexandria Historical Society lecture this past week, voters would go to one of four ward locations. They would state their name, then their election preference, which would be marked in a "Poll Book." So, unlike with other methods (including today's), a record exists of who voted for whom.

From this information, DeBats has been involved in a project at the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities at the University of Virginia to use results from the 1859 state election and connect the data with other public records. (The other city studied is Newport, Kentucky, which also used viva voce.)

He showed us the database this past week. Using tax records, the 1860 Census, city directories, church membership lists, etc., a user can slice & dice all kinds of information. The project has lots of "next steps"--including developing a handful of case studies tied with material artifacts and documentary records, articles, and the like.

For now, however, we can play with the database to our heart's content--and so can you! Go to:

Click on Alexandria...then on Database Queries:

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