Voting Beans

Ah, the good old days. Jill Lepore details how we used to vote:

Americans used to vote with their voicesviva voceor with their hands or with their feet. Yea or nay. Raise your hand. All in favor of Jones, stand on this side of the town common; if you support Smith, line up over there. In the colonies, as in the mother country, casting a vote rarely required paper and pen.

The word “ballot” comes from the Italian ballotta, or little ball, and a ballot often was a ball, or at least something ballish, like a pea or a pebble, or, not uncommonly, a bullet. Colonial Pennsylvanians commonly voted by tossing beans into a hat. Paper voting wasn’t meant to conceal anyone’s vote; it was just easier than counting beans. Our forebears considered casting a “secret ballot” cowardly, underhanded, and despicable; as one South Carolinian put it, voting secretly would “destroy that noble generous openness that is characteristick of an Englishman.”