Visual History of Voting in the United States

Updated on Sep 22, 2020. Originally added on Oct 27, 2020 by Kathy Pinna

Most Americans have their first voting experience in school - class president, vice-president, and other officers are chosen every year. So begins their foray into democracy.

In the beginning of our democracy, only white men who were property owners could vote. In the succeeding decades, African-Americans and women were added to the Constitution, giving a political voice to those who were previously left out.

It's thanks to great people from our past like those mentioned below that we owe our thanks for the rights that we take for granted today.

Continue Reading Below
Share and discover the people and places from your past

Visual History of Voting in the United States moment please loading spinner

Kate Bernard, 1915

First statewide officer holder
[ Click image for details ]

A member of the Democratic party, Kate Bernard was elected in 1907 to the Oklahoma Commissioner of Charities and Corrections - the only statewide office that a woman could hold at the time (this was before women could vote). While she was elected to two terms, her office was defunded when she began to advocate on the behalf of Native Americans and her second term was ended prematurely. Almost 80 years later, she was inducted into the Oklahoma Women's Hall of Fame.

Mrs Coolidge Votes by Mail

Almost 100 years ago, the First Lady of the U.S. voted by mail
[ Click image for details ]

On October 30, 1924, the wife of President Calvin Coolidge sat in the garden of the White House and filled in her mail-in ballot. Mail in voting was added to the Constitution in 1864 (Article XIII of the Amendments to the 1818 Constitution) to allow Civil War soldiers to vote by absentee ballot.

Wood Engraving of "Counting the Vote", 1876

[ Click image for details ]

This picture of men counting the vote was published in the December version of Frank Leslie's illustrated newspaper. Notes of interest? Only men are pictured (because only men could vote) and the ballot box is an actual wooden box!


Jeannette Rankin, 1916

First Congresswoman in the U.S.
[ Click image for details ]

Jeanette Pickering Rankin was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives as a Republican from Montana in 1916 and again in 1940. She was the first woman to hold a federal office in the US (and the last - to date - woman to be elected to Congress from Montana). Maybe that will change?

Harper's Weekly. 1876

African-American men lined up to vote
[ Click image for details ]

In 1870, the Fifteenth Amendment to the US Constitution prevented states from denying the right to vote on the grounds of "race, color, or previous condition of servitude".

Unfortunately, the former Confederate states passed Jim Crow laws and amendments in order to disfranchise black and poor white voters. They used poll taxes, literacy tests, grandfather clauses and other restrictions, applied in a discriminatory manner.

Dunklin County, Missouri

[ Click image for details ]

An African-American man voting in the primary election in MO, 1942

Electoral Voting, Washington DC

[ Click image for details ]

Counting the electoral vote, U.S. Capitol, Washington, D.C in April 1917


Bobroff Voting Machine

An updated way to vote?
[ Click image for details ]

This is a photo of the BOBROFF VOTING MACHINE being considered for use by the House of Representatives in 1917.

President Taft Voting

[ Click image for details ]

A photo of President Taft voting circa 1915. Does he look more interested in the camera than the ballot?

Annie Marshall Reid Rolph

[ Click image for details ]

The wife of the Mayor of San Francisco voting in the election. California gave women the vote in 1911 - 9 years before the Federal government did.

Caricature of What Would Happen if Women Voted

Puck Magazine:
[ Click image for details ]

In 1909, Puck Magazine ran a picture of what would happen if women could vote: They would go out to cast their ballot and be distracted by such "meaningless" things as buying a new hat.

1964 Washington DC

[ Click image for details ]

In this photo of the 1964 Presidential election, a young African-American woman is voting. Some places were beginning to make it easier for minorities to vote.

1944 Maryland

[ Click image for details ]

In the 1944 general election in Maryland, this photo shows a man casting his vote. Interesting voting booth - the curtain is pulled around his body?


Men Selling Votes

[ Click image for details ]

In this undated photo - perhaps the 1920s? - four men were arrested on suspicion of selling votes. Luckily, this rarely happens today.

1952 - Being brought up on Patriotism

[ Click image for details ]

Is this a form of "brainwashing"? If so, this baby grew up to always exercise his patriotic duty!

1924 Presidential Election

[ Click image for details ]

Lined up to vote in the 1924 election, it looks like only one woman decided to vote. Lines look quite different today, almost 100 years later.

Local election, 1940s

[ Click image for details ]

Casting a paper ballot in the 1940s. The first paper ballot is thought to have been cast in Rome circa 139 BCE.

Voting Machine for the House of Representative

[ Click image for details ]

Similar to an adding machine, this voting machine did the same job in less than two weeks - when it used to take more than 3 months. Greater accuracy was assured in counting votes with the Jurgensen-designed machine.

1940 Voting

No lines, no waiting
[ Click image for details ]

In 1940 North Dakota, there are only 4 cars at the schoolhouse. But based on the landscape, they had to drive a far ways to vote.

1940 Utah

[ Click image for details ]

These farmers are voting for "the caretaker of the stallion" at an FSA meeting in 1940. Who knows what the caretaker of the stallion is?

Voting Machines was BIG BUSINESS in 1922

[ Click image for details ]

So many voting machines! It seems like everyone and anyone, in a variety of venues, was trying to invent a new voting machine in the 20th century. Everyone wanted to make it easier to vote and quicker to tally the results.

Thomas Edison's 1869 voting machine

[ Click image for details ]

Since politicians often used a slow vote to delay or halt the progress of a new piece of legislation, Edison's invention for the House of Representatives was kiboshed. It was his first patent and the lack of success didn't deter him. He did, however, vow to “Never waste time inventing things that people would not want to buy.”

While we owe many thanks to those who have built our democracy, so few of us today actually choose to exercise their right to vote. In 1828, 57.6% of those eligible voted, in 1876 a high of 81.8% men voted. Since then, there has been a steady decline in those who have participated. In 2016, the voting age population was 250+ million but those who turned out to vote numbered a mere 138+ million - only 55.5% of those eligible. If you think that this is a low percentage, it was higher than the previous half century when the percentage hovered around 50%.

Have photos that you'd like to see included? Share your photos or see photos showing the story of the fight for women's suffrage by clicking "next page" below.

Blog posts

Back to Top