US Election 2020

USA Election 2020: what does an official ballot look like?

Today, 3 November, is election day. Here's a simple guide to what an official presidential election ballot looks like to prepare you for the big decision.

USA Election 2020: what does an official ballot look like?
Stephen Maturen AFP

Today, 3 November, is presidential election day. When you go your polling station you’ll be presented with your ballot (the paper you mark to cast your vote) but it won’t just say Donald Trump or Joe Biden. You’ll get independent party options too, as well as a write-in option.

You’ll also be voting for various representatives in your state who are up for re-election, in the Senate and the House of Representatives. Who they are, and how many are up for election depends on where you live.

In addition to this you’ll also have a selection of local elections mixed in, so you’ll also have your governor and city officials on the ballot.

To help avoid any confusion, you can see a sample ballot which will show you exactly what you should get on the big day.

How do I see a sample ballot?

Ballotpedia have created a very nifty tool in which you anonymously enter your street, city and state and it shows you what your ballot options will be when decision time rolls around. From your ballot sample, there’s an information page attached to each candidate listed, so there’s no excuse for not knowing who to pick today!

Voting through the years

Viva voce

In the 1800s, the method of voting was called “viva voce” which means “by voice”, voters would go up to an election clerk and call out your preferred candidate, in the hope that the clerk heard you, marking your vote down onto the running total.

Paper ballots

The first paper ballot came to some states by the 1840s but not all. They weren’t anything like the paper ballots we have now. They were pamphlets printed by the parties themselves, so you submitted only the ticket for the party you supported.

Mail-in ballots

Mail-in absentee ballots were first used in the civil war for soldiers to cast votes while fighting. In both 1862 and 1864 elections there are records of these being used. Although today Trump’s doing his best to discredit mail-in voting, back then the Republicans were heavily promoting absentee ballots; they knew that most soldiers would vote their way.

Secret ballots

The secret ballot which resembles the system we now use was an Australian idea. In the late 1800s the US adopted the method, which provided the first confidential way to choose from a clearly presented list of candidates.

Lever machines

Lever machines were the first incarnation of a mechanical voting method, invented in the US in the 19th century. The machine featured a curtain for privacy and after you pressed a button to indicate your chosen candidate, you pulled a lever to send it off.

New York State didn't give up its lever machines until 2010!

Punch card ballots

Punch Cards were a small and cheap way of computerising the counting of completed ballots. However, following a debacle in ballot counting in the state of Florida in the 2020 election, a flaw with the way the paper could be left only half punched called “hanging chads” marked the end of the use of punch card ballots.

Optically scanned ballots

Optically scanned ballots are now the dominant voting system. You fill in the assigned oval next to your chosen candidate with a black pen and a machine that reads just the black spots in the correct spaces counts the ballots very quickly.

Vote in plenty of time, take care to read all of the instructions very carefully and stay safe at the polls.

You can follow all the latest election news right here on AS English.