Casting the Ballot

Nebraskans at the polls this November will mark standardized printed ballots. But this precise regularity of ballots has not always been the case. In Nebraska’s early days, a “straight ticket” ballot, containing only partisan candidates’ names, was printed by each party county central committee. Where printing wasn’t available, hand-written ballots were devised. Ballots were carried to the polling place by the individual voter, so intimidation and outright fraud were all too common.

If you didn’t want to vote the straight ticket, you could scratch out the name of the offensive candidate. But there was no space for write-ins. And heaven forbid that you should want to vote for some candidates from each party! Occasionally “split tickets” with a combination of candidates were printed by independent politicians, but these ballots were not universally available.

Balloting procedures were improved greatly in 1891, when the legislature adopted the Australian Ballot Act “to promote the independence of voters, to enforce the security of the ballot, and to provide for printing and distribution of ballots at public expense.”

Still, the 1891 ballot barely resembled ours today. Slates from all parties were printed on a single sheet, but candidates from each party were listed together in long columns. Boxes for X’s followed each candidate’s name, so the discriminating voter could pick and choose, if he were willing to go to the trouble. (Remember, in 1891 the ladies didn’t have the right to vote.) A blank column was provided for write-ins, so voters had some flexibility.

In 1897 the Legislature moved back to a more partisan approach, by passing the “blanket ballot” law. This act provided for a circle and the emblem of a particular party to appear at the head of each party’s slate. By placing an X in the circle, the voter could easily cast his ballot “straight.” The option for choosing among columns still existed, but unsophisticated and illiterate voters found it simpler to remember the party emblem. Marking the circle by the Democrats’ rooster, the Republicans’ eagle, or the Prohibition rose quickly took care of the citizen’s obligation to exercise his franchise.

In the twentieth century the ballot was again modified, and finally the names of candidates for a single office were placed together, with their party affiliation following their names. A special section of the ballot still listed party slates and emblems, however, so voting the straight ticket could still be done with one stroke. This type of ballot remained in use in Nebraska into the 1930s. Voters wading through the long, and to some, complicated ballot of 1988 may find themselves longing for the quick and easy ballot of “the good old days.”


Become a Member!

Our members make history happen.

Join Now

Other Publications

The Bachelors’ Protective Union of Kearney

When the Bachelors' Protective Union gave a gala reception for two of its newly married, former members and their brides in March of 1890, the social club for young, ...

U.S. Weather Bureau in 1890s Nebraska

The U.S. Weather Bureau was established by an act of Congress on October 1, 1890. It took over the weather service that had been established in the office of the Chief ...

Canning the Way to Victory

During American participation in World War I the U.S. Food Administration, under the direction of Herbert Hoover, launched a massive campaign to persuade Americans to ...

The Shoemaker’s Ashes

"Edward Kuehl, one of the most peculiar characters that ever lived in Omaha, or anywhere else, was found dead in his bed last night in the back room of his place of ...

Crazy Horse Surrender Ledger Foreward

Red Dog, an Oglala Lakota who lived at the Red Cloud Agency, Nebraska, 1876-77 (Nebraska State Historical Society   In the summer of 1876, following the ...

Darryl F. Zanuck

Darryl F. Zanuck Darryl F. Zanuck (1902-1979), a native Nebraskan, produced some of Hollywood's most important and controversial films. He helped found 20th Century Fox ...

The Burlington’s Profitable Pork Special

Nebraska railroads were much concerned with developing an adequate economy in the areas they served. The Burlington, for example, had a long history of caring for the ...

Bungalow Filling Stations

After the giant Standard Oil Company was broken into thirty-four separate companies in 1911, the newly independent Standard Oil of Nebraska dominated the state's market ...

The Bull Fight

This is the perfect time of year for a visit to the old fishin' hole. But a group of fisherfolk from Plainview discovered that this bucolic pastime sometimes has ...

Buffalo Soldiers West

African-American soldiers on the western frontier are the focus of an exhibit at the Nebraska History Museum in Lincoln. Buffalo Soldiers West, on loan from the Colorado ...

Protection for Buffalo

The extermination of the buffalo on the Plains occurred largely between 1870 and 1885. The Nebraska State Journal of Lincoln on February 1, 1874, editorialized in vain ...

Buffalo Hunting

In late October 1877 young Rolf Johnson and three friends left their homes in Phelps County, Nebraska, for a buffalo hunt in northeastern Colorado. The hunt was not very ...
About History Nebraska
History Nebraska was founded in 1878 as the Nebraska State Historical Society by citizens who recognized Nebraska was going through great changes and they sought to record the stories of both indigenous and immigrant peoples. It was designated a state institution and began receiving funds from the legislature in 1883. Legislation in 1994 changed History Nebraska from a state institution to a state agency. The division is headed by Interim Director and CEO Jill Dolberg. They are assisted by an administrative staff responsible for financial and personnel functions, museum store services, security, and facilities maintenance for History Nebraska.
Explore Nebraska
Discover the real places and people of our past at these History Nebraska sites.

Upcoming Events

View our new and upcoming events to see how you can get involved.

Become a Member

The work we do to discover, preserve, and share Nebraska's history wouldn't be possible without the support of History Nebraska members.

History Nebraska Education

Learn more about the educational programs provided at our museums, sites, and online.

Education Digital Learning Resources

Find games, lists, and more to enhance your history education curriculum.

History Nebraska Programs

Learn more about the programs associated with History Nebraska.

Latest Hall of Fame Inductee

The Nebraska Hall of Fame was established in 1961 to officially recognize prominent Nebraskans.

Listen to our Podcast

Listen to the articles and authors published in the Nebraska History Magazine with our new Nebraska History Podcast!

Nebraska Collections

History Nebraska's mission is to collect, preserve, and open our shared history to all Nebraskans.

Our YouTube Video Collection

Get a closer look at Nebraska's history through your own eyes, with our extensive video collections.

Additional Research Resources

History Nebraska Research and Reference Services help connect you to the material we collect and preserve.

History Nebraska Services

Digital Resources

Find all of our digital resources, files, videos, and more, all in one easy-to-search page!

Support History Nebraska
Make a cash donation to help us acquire, preserve, and interpret Nebraska’s history. Gifts to History Nebraska help leave a legacy and may help your taxes, too! Support the work of History Nebraska by donating to the History Nebraska Foundation today.

Volunteers are the heroes of History Nebraska. So much history, so little time! Your work helps us share access to Nebraska’s stories at our museums and sites, the reference room, and online.