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ballot, means of voting for candidates for office. The choice may be indicated on or by the ballot forms themselves—e.g., colored balls (hence the term ballot, which is derived from the Italian ballotta, meaning “little ball”), printed tickets, or mechanical or electronic devices—or by the depositories into which the ballots are put.

The ballot was used in Athens in the 5th cent. B.C. by the popular courts and, on the question of ostracism, by the people as a whole; in India before 300 B.C.; and in Rome by the popular assemblies and occasionally by the senate. Ballots were not used during the Middle Ages, but reappeared in the Italian communes and in elections to the papacy during the 13th cent. In the 16th and 17th cent. the ballot appeared in English borough and university elections.

The General Court of Massachusetts elected governors by ballot after 1634; corn and beans were occasionally used as ballots. Early American ballots were known as “papers”: the name ballot does not occur in America before 1676. The British colonies in America were the first to elect representatives by secret ballot, and its use was made obligatory in all but one of the state constitutions adopted in the United States between 1776 and 1780. In the 19th cent. the use of the ballot became widespread in local and national elections in Europe.

Groups wishing to intimidate popular governance have opposed the ballot. The effort to reform election abuses led to the widespread use of the Australian ballot, which was adopted in Victoria in 1857, in Great Britain in 1872, and grew increasingly popular in the United States after 1888. In the latter country it gradually replaced earlier methods of voting such as the lengthy “tickets” distributed by political parties. In the Australian system all candidates' names are printed on a single ballot and placed in the polling places at public expense, and the printing, distribution, and marking of the ballot are protected by law, thus assuring a secret vote.

The Australian ballot is now used in many European countries and in almost all sections of the United States. Separate ballots are frequently distributed for referendums and constitutional propositions. Mechanical, computerized, electronic, or optically scannable means of voting (see voting machine) are now used to record about 90% of all votes in the United States. The institution of official ballots and the use of voting machines have helped bring political parties under the scope of the law.

Mail-in, or absentee, ballots, were first used in the United States by the military during the Civil War, and were subsequently used by people unable to vote in person at a polling place. Many states now permit mail-in voting by persons who are able to vote at a polling place, also known as no-excuse absentee voting. Mail-in voting was required in Oregon after a 1998 referendum, and a number of other states have since adopted that practice. Estonia used an Internet website as alternative means of voting for local candidates in 2005 and national candidates in 2007.

Some critics have denounced the excessive length of the United States ballots, claiming that voters are thus too pressed for time in their decisions. The use of the presidential short ballot, listing only the candidates, not the electors pledged to them, has not much alleviated this problem.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2022, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



an electoral document for secret voting, the form of which is established by the state bodies involved in a particular election. In the USSR the ballot indicates the surname, given name, and patronymic of the candidate for deputy registered in the given electoral district (in the elections to the people’s courts, the ballot gives the name of the candidate for people’s judge) and gives the name of the organization that has nominated him. The ballot is printed in the language of the population of the corresponding electoral district. In accordance with the Election Statute, special rooms are set aside or separate booths are equipped on the election premises for filling out the ballot.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


1. the democratic practice of selecting a representative, a course of action, or deciding some other choice by submitting the options to a vote of all qualified persons
2. an instance of voting, usually in secret using ballot papers or a voting machine
3. a list of candidates standing for office
4. the number of votes cast in an election
5. a random selection of successful applicants for something in which the demand exceeds the supply, esp for shares in an oversubscribed new issue
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
References in periodicals archive ?
Unfortunately, we know little about the human factors and how they interface with ballot design and technology.
Palm Beach County, where a ballot design first prompted Florida's election dispute, finally began its recount with the blessing of the state's highest court.
The EMS contains details such as ballot design, voter information and polling precincts.
Election Assistance Commission provides polling place and ballot design guidelines and templates for use at the state and local levels.
Ballot design for each type of machine is vitally important in making sure that voters properly cast their votes.
A ballot design so flawed that it made Palm Beach County's butterfly ballot look like a model of precision led to the disfranchisement in Gadsden County of almost four times the number of votes that Al Gore needed to beat George W.
In November 2000, an estimated 6 million votes were lost due to systemic errors, including faulty machinery, confusing ballot design, and inaccurate registration lists resulting in voters being turned away at the polls.
Given the well-publicized problems with ballot design and voting machines, it is likely that changes will be made in these areas as well.
More than 19,000 voting papers had to be destroyed because voters selected two candidates due to a unique ballot design especially produced for Florida.
* Ballot design and production--offer design and printing and/or Internet production of ballot packages, including candidate biographies.
In marked contrast, Georgia put new electronic voting systems into every precinct in 2002 and, thanks to a comprehensive, statewide implementation plan that covered every aspect of elections from ballot design and machine testing to poll worker training and voter outreach, voters experienced few problems.