Although American citizens age eighteen and older in all states have the right to vote, the manner in which they vote varies considerably from state to state and even from county to county. The U.S. Constitution gives states the right to determine how elections are run (with some limits), but states often delegate some of this power to local governments.
Types of Ballots
The ballots used in elections have changed significantly in American history. Originally, political parties printed their own ballots, listing only their candidates. Voters took ballots from the party of their choice and deposited them in the ballot box within full view of other voters. As a result, vote choices were public. Since 1888, however, state governments have printed ballots that list all candidates for all offices. Votes are cast in secret. Because Australia was the first country to adopt the secret ballot, this ballot is called the Australian ballot.
Elections in the United States use one of two kinds of Australian ballots:
- The office-block ballot (also called the Massachusetts Ballot): Candidates are grouped by office.
- The party-column ballot (also called the Indiana Ballot): Candidates are grouped by party.
Political parties do not like office block ballots because these ballots encourage people to vote for candidates from different parties (a practice known as split-ticket voting). Instead, political parties prefer party-column ballots because these ballots make it easy to choose candidates only from a particular party. Some of these ballots even allow voters to choose all of a party’s candidates by checking a single box, or pulling a single lever, a practice called straight-ticket voting.
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