Secret Ballot

From Ohio History Central

During the late nineteenth century, Ohio elections were rife with corruption. It was very easy for candidates or their supporters to pay election officials to stuff voting boxes. In major cities, especially in Cincinnati, city bosses rigged elections in favor of one candidate over the others. Once elected, politicians were expected to provide the city bosses with government contracts and other monetary perks. If politicians refused, the city bosses would rig the next election in favor of another candidate.

James E. Campbell, who became Ohio's governor in 1890, made ballot reform one of the major issues of his administration. He declared that government failed to meet the people's needs "unless every elector is secured a free, secret, untrammeled and unpurchased ballot which shall be honestly counted and returned." The governor suggested that Ohio adopt the Australian Ballot System. Under the Australian Ballot System, all approved candidates would have their names and party designations listed on the official ballot. Before this point, voters wrote their choices on the ballot and were not provided with a list of candidates. Under the Australian Ballot System, voters would somehow mark the candidates for whom they were voting. Ballots were provided to voters only at polling locations and only on Election Day. Voters could not take ballots from the polling location. Voters would also place the ballots directly in voting boxes, limiting the opportunity for election officials to taint the process.

Governor Campbell hoped that the Australian Ballot System would reduce confusion and corruption. The Ohio legislature agreed, passing the Australian Ballot Law in 1891. While this legislation did not end corruption in politics, it greatly reduced illegal election activities.

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