10 Fun Facts on Voting History

Winter Shanck | September 21, 2016

We’ve scoured the continent and the ages to highlight some unusual and fun facts about voting history in the United States. Learn more about voting and civic responsibility at the National Voter Registration Day event, September 27, being held at WNET Tisch Studios.

Fun Fact #1: George Washington Bought Drinks on Election Day

George Washington Painting

Painting of George Washington by John Trumbull (1756–1843). who served in the Continental Army under General Washington. Oil on canvas, 12′ x 18′. Commissioned 1817. Image courtesy Joye~/Flickr

In 1758, George Washington, then a young candidate for the Virginia House of Burgesses— the first legislative assembly of elected representatives in North America — bought a huge round of drinks on Election Day. Washington spent his entire campaign budget — 50 pounds — on 160 gallons of liquor served to 391 voters. The custom of buying votes with booze was one of the English traditions imported to the American colony. Washington also was following a Virginia tradition in which barrels of liquor were rolled to courthouse lawns and polling places on Election Day.

Chamber of the House of Burgesses in the Capitol at Williamsburg, VA.

Reconstruction of Chamber of the House of Burgesses in the Capitol at Williamsburg, VA. Photo by Frances Benjamin Johnston, ca. 1930-1939.

Fun Fact #2: Weather and Harvest dictated Election Timing

Briarcliff Farm, James Stillman's property in Briarcliff Manor, New York.

Briarcliff Farm, James Stillman’s property in Briarcliff Manor, New York. Illustration ca. 1886.

In the 1800s, the agrarian economy involved most Americans. In 1840, farming was the occupation of 69 percent of working Americans. Farmers weren’t able to travel easily until the harvest was over. Also, the onset of winter conditions in areas that had winter conditions made travel a problem, so elections happened in the late fall.

Fun Fact #3: Ohio Constitution “No Idiots” Clause

The table used at the 1802 Ohio Constitutional Convention. Illustration by Henry Howe

The table used at the 1802 Ohio Constitutional Convention. Illustration by Henry Howe (1891).

Ohio’s constitution prohibits “idiots” from voting. Article V, Section 6 of Ohio’s constitution states “No idiot, or insane person, shall be entitled to the privileges of an elector.” (Ratified: 1851)

Fun Fact #4: Texas: Vote with a Gun License or Student ID?

Texas will let you vote with a gun license, but not with a student ID.

Fun Fact #5: America’s Non-elected President

Gerald Ford campaigns at the Nassau County Veterans Coliseum

President Gerald Ford campaigns at the Nassau County Veterans Coliseum in Hempstead, New York on October 31, 1976, during the final days of his failed campaign against Jimmy Carter. Photo: David Hume Kennerly/ Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library

The only President and Vice President not elected to the office was Gerald Ford. Using the 25th Amendment, President Richard Nixon appointed Ford as Vice President after Spiro Agnew resigned from the position. Nine months later, President Nixon resigned and Gerald Ford rose up in his place.

Fun Fact #6: A Cartoonist Made Political Parties’ Symbols

"The Third-Term Panic", by Thomas Nast, originally published in Harper's Magazine 7 November 1874.

“The Third-Term Panic”, by Thomas Nast, originally published in Harper’s Magazine 7 November 1874.

Cartoonist Thomas Nash is credited with creating both the Republican and Democratic symbols, the elephant and the donkey, respectively, when he lampooned the political parties in a cartoon in Harper’s Weekly magazine in 1874. Soon people everywhere began using those symbols to represent the parties.

Fun Fact #7: The President was Chosen Days Prior to Inauguration in 1877

A political cartoon by Joseph Keppler

A political cartoon by Joseph Keppler (1877) depicts Roscoe Conkling as Mephistopheles (the devil) while Rutherford B. Hayes strolls off with the prize of the “Solid South,” depicted as a woman. The caption quotes Goethe: “Unto that Power he doth belong Which only doeth Right while ever willing Wrong.”

If you think the country endured an unreasonably long wait to find out the winner of the Bush-Gore election of 2000 (the Florida recount battle took 36 days), consider the election of 1876, which was bitterly disputed for months. Democrat Samuel J. Tilden of New York had narrowly beat Ohio Republican Rutherford B. Hayes in the popular vote, and had 184 electoral votes to Hayes’s 165, with 20 electoral votes uncounted.

Hotly contested were 19 electoral votes in Florida, Louisiana, and South Carolina, with each party reporting its candidate had won the state. Meanwhile, in Oregon, one elector was declared illegally appointed and replaced. These 20 disputed electoral votes were ultimately decided by a commission of eight Republicans and seven Democrats who awarded all to the Republican candidate Hayes. He was declared the winner only three days before the scheduled inauguration on March 5, 1877, when President Grant’s term ended. The infamous Compromise of 1877 saw the Democrats acquiesce to Hayes’s election, in exchange for Republicans withdrawing federal troops from the South.

This spelled the end of Reconstruction, Democratic dominance in former slave states, and the rise of Jim Crow.

Fun Fact #8: New Jersey Allowed Women to Vote Longest

New Jersey State Capitol in Trenton in 1846.

New Jersey State Capitol in Trenton in 1846.

The New Jersey Constitution of 1776 did not discriminate by gender when it came to voting.

[A]ll inhabitants of this Colony, of full age, who are worth fifty
pounds proclamation money, clear estate in the same, and have
resided within the county in which they claim a vote for twelve
months immediately preceding the election, shall be entitled to vote
for Representatives in Council and Assembly; and also for all other
public officers, that shall be elected by the people of the county at
large.

The gender neutral language was not an oversight. In 1797 all New Jersey counties used “he or she” to refer to voters. However, in 1807, New Jersey Women lost the right to vote in New Jersey when voting was restricted to “free, white, male citizens.” This made New Jersey the last state in the country to take voting rights away from women. For more details on women’s right to vote in New Jersey, see this article in the Rutgers Law Review.

Fun fact #9: First Woman to Run for President

Victoria Woodhull

Victoria Woodhull (September 23, 1838 – June 9, 1927), who ran for U.S. president in 1872. Photo ca. 1870 by C.D. Fredericks & Co., 587 Broadway, New York.

Victoria Woodhull, the first of more than 200 women to have run for president in America, rose from poor and eccentric origins to become one of the most colorful and vivid figures of the U.S. women’s suffrage movement. In 1870, with backing from railroad tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt, she and her sister became the first women to open a stock brokerage firm. They used their Wall Street profits to bankroll a controversial newspaper, which supported such causes as legalized prostitution and free love. Woodhull won increased respect from women’s rights activists when she argued on behalf of female suffrage in front of the House Judiciary Committee in early 1871, and the following year the Equal Rights Party nominated her for president of the United States. By the time of the general election in 1872, Woodhull’s enemies had gotten the better of her temporarily, and she spent Election Day in jail for publishing an article that accused the popular preacher Henry Ward Beecher of adultery. She was eventually acquitted of all charges, moved to England and married a wealthy banker.

Fun Fact #10: Women Got the Right to Vote in Utah — Twice

Emily Sophia Tanner Richards

Emily Sophia Tanner Richards (1850-1929), key figure in the founding of the Utah Woman’s Suffrage Association.

The right of women to vote was won twice in Utah. It was granted unanimously first in 1870 by the territorial legislature but revoked by Congress in 1887 as part of a national effort to stop polygamy in the territory. Mormon Emily Sophia Tanner Richards (1850-1929) and her husband were leaders of their state’s Women’s Suffrage Movement. In 1895 the right to vote and hold office was written into the constitution of the new state.