From Ballot Tokens to Voting Machines: The Technology of Elections

From Ballot Tokens to Voting Machines: The Technology of Elections
Betty Ford: Science, Medicine, Inventions and tech

Skill: Elementary School
Time Required: One-two class periods


Gerald Ford was not elected to the Presidency, but became President upon the resignation of President Richard M. Nixon, the first (and so far, only) time a sitting President has resigned.  Although he got his party’s nomination for the office in 1976 and ran for election, he was defeated by Jimmy Carter.  All of which leads us to thinking about voting, and ballot boxes, and, now—voting machines.


The purpose of this lesson is to help students learn about the history of voting technology over the past 200 years, and to discover what technology is being used in their own state.

Materials Required:

Access to the Internet; access to print materials; paper and pens or pencils or word processors.


1.  Introduce the lesson by asking students if they have ever been to their local polling place with their parents or other adults when they were voting.  Ask about what they saw.
2.  Then, explain that voting—which is one of the cornerstones of American democracy—has been carried out in many different ways over the years.  Using the first two web sites listed below, divide students into eight groups and have them research the following ways: 

  • Before Ballots
  • The First Ballots
  • The Paper Ballot
  • The Australian Paper Ballot
  • Lever Voting Machines
  • Punched Cards for Voting
  • Optical Mark-Sense Scanners
  • Direct Recording Voting Machines

3.  When the research is completed, ask students to describe the kind of voting technology they researched, as well as its strengths and weaknesses. Discuss with students the basis for the current debate on electronic voting machines and the Help America Vote Act (HAVA).

4.  Then, explain to students that the Secretary of State of their state is in charge of elections in their state.  Have students look up the Home Page of the Secretary of State in your state, and search for information on voting.  It is sometimes featured clearly on the Home Page, and sometimes not.  Often, typing HAVA into a ‘Search’ window will do the trick. 
5.  Ask students what they found, and—referring back to their own research on voting technology—whether they think their state’s voting procedures and fair, accurate, and dependable.

Extending the Lesson:

This lesson might be extended by having students write short papers on their opinions or questions about their state’s election procedures and sent them to their Secretary of State.

Sources & Resources:

De Capua, Sarah.  Voting.  New York: Children’s Press, 2002.
A History of Voting Technology 

The History of Voting Machines 

Help America Vote Act of 2002  

Office of the Secretary of State for All U.S. States 
For the Teacher
Understanding the Debate on Electronic Voting Machines 

This lesson was developed by Averil McClelland, Kent State University.