It’s About Time column: Voting started with a ballot box
It’s About Time
The old well-used square brown box has a handle on top next to the slot, and the hasp in front holds an antique skeleton key lock. Ballots were dropped into a small slit in the top.
More likely than not the box was used in the August 1885 election that approved the incorporation of the town of Glenwood Springs. A month later it would have been involved in the election of Glenwood’s first mayor, Joseph Elihu Schram, who was replaced by W.E. Shaffer in the April 1886 election.
It would be eight years before a woman’s hand would drop a ballot into its dark interior. Colorado granted women the right to vote in the 1893 Suffrage Bill, becoming the first state to enact women’s suffrage by popular referendum. This progressive act granted Colorado women the right to vote “in the same manner in all respects as male persons are.”
On the national scale, Aug. 18, 2020, marks 100 years since the ratification of the 19th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, whereby all American women won the right to vote.
Since its first use, what could the old ballot box tell us?
It would tell us that in that first election in 1886, of the 81 votes cast, four votes were rejected for ballot irregularities. People back then were as concerned as we are today about making sure voter fraud did not occur.
It would tell us that its days were numbered when on Nov. 19, 1889, Jacob H. Myers of Rochester, New York, patented the first mechanical lever voting machine.
It would tell us that by 1920 the gear-and-lever voting machine had become the official voting method in Colorado along with New York, Minnesota, California, Connecticut, Wisconsin, New Jersey, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, Utah, Montana, Illinois, Washington, Massachusetts and Kansas. The voting machine was now a symbol of good modern government.
If the voting machine made the old ballot box obsolete, the mail-in ballot Colorado shifted to in the 2013 election sounded its death knell.
There would no longer be the possibility of illegal ballot stuffing in Colorado, not that it was ever a problem in the Glenwood area.
With the mail-in ballot, Colorado election officials implemented a barcode ballot-tracking program unique to each envelope, allowing voters to track their ballot every step of the way.
With the pandemic in full swing and only God-knows-what November holds for its further spread, which is safer? In-person or mail-in voting?
The Denver Post May 24, 2020, edition quotes Amber McReynolds, chief executive officer of the National Vote at Home Institute and Coalition, as saying, “What the pandemic has exposed is the significant vulnerabilities and risks with most states (that are) reliant on in-person voting as the primary method of voting.”
The Denver Post also stated that Colorado’s experience shows that vote by mail can be at least as secure as in-person voting while increasing turnout.
What happened to the old Glenwood ballot box? It sat around gathering dust until Judy O’Donnell brought it by the Frontier Museum last year to see if we wanted to preserve it.
It sits on the pew in our satellite Doc Holliday Collection in Bullock’s basement at Eighth and Grand Avenue. For a year it once again took paper ballots, this time from people voting whether the derringer on display, reportedly given to Doc by his paramour Big Nose Kate, was authentic.
The total results of the voting were 425 voted yes and 69 voted no it was not Doc’s gun.
Now retired from taking ballots, the securely locked old box proudly takes donations from visitors to Doc’s Collection. Go by and check it out.
Bill Kight is the executive director of the Glenwood Springs Historical Society and writes a monthly column about history. He can be reached at 970-945-4448.
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