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Issue Date: November 2012


Erick Trickey

After a ballot-tampering scandal in Cleveland’s August 1928 election, the enterprising Automatic Registering Machine Co. of Jamestown, N.Y., sensed a chance to win new customers. Ohio’s decades-old ban on voting machines would be lifted at the end of 1929. So in July of that year, the company set up a demonstration of its mechanical voting booth, first in a downtown bank lobby, then at the board of elections. What better way to highlight the machine’s modernity than to photograph fashionable young women flicking the levers? They were a novelty too; women had only been casting ballots for nine years.

“Voting machines will not lie, forge or perjure themselves,” a Plain Dealer editorial declared. “They do not record as voting voters who do not vote.”

But the Great Depression sank the chance to buy the machines. Funds went to relief for the poor instead. Cuyahoga County kept hand-counted paper ballots for decades. It slowly converted to mechanical booths between 1958 and 1972, granting contracts to the same company that tried to woo its business in 1929.

The county switched to punch-card voting in 1981 and voting on computer terminals in 2006. Two years later, after electronic voting proved error-prone, it went back to paper ballots — though optical scanners count our votes now.

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