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The Way We Vote

The Local Dimension of American Suffrage

Alec C. Ewald

Publication Year: 2009

To a degree unique among democracies, the United States has always placed responsibility for running national elections in the hands of county, city, and town officials. The Way We Work explores the causes and consequences of America’s localized voting system, explaining its historical development and its impact on American popular sovereignty and democratic equality. The book shows that local electoral variation has endured through dramatic changes in American political and constitutional structure, and that such variation is the product of a clear, repeated developmental pattern, not simple neglect or public ignorance. Legal materials, statutes and Congressional debates, state constitutional-convention proceedings, and the records of contested Congressional elections illuminate a long record of federal and state intervention in American electoral mechanics. Lawmakers have always understood that a certain level of disorder characterizes U.S. national elections, and have responded by exercising their authority over suffrage practices--but only in limited ways, effectively helping to construct our triply-governed electoral system.

Published by: Vanderbilt University Press


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Table of Contents

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p. v

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p. vii

There is a convention of thanking one’s spouse or partner last, presumably for dramatic effect. I would prefer to remove any doubt that my first and last debt is to my wife, Emily. Thank you. Though it stings to know I am forgetting many important people, it is still a great pleasure to acknowledge here those who have helped in the writing ...

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pp. 1-16

In the long and roiled wake of the 2000 election, Americans are still fighting over the way we vote. Voter registration, ballot design and technology, polling-place selection, who should pay for elections (and how much), how to count (and recount) votes, the process for “purging” voters—all once lumped under the unglamorous title of “election administration” and widely...

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1. “Times, Places, and Manner”: Early American Voting

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pp. 17-47

The conventional history of the American right to vote is straightforward, its landmarks familiar. The state constitutions of the early nineteenth century largely did away with property tests, moving toward suffrage for all white males. During Reconstruction, the Union Army and the Republican controlled Congress collaborated to enfranchise African Americans; the...

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2. “Who Shall Create the Voter”: The Late Nineteenth Century

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pp. 48-71

It is commonly assumed that our current debates mark the first time the national and state governments, the courts, and reformers have engaged in sustained examination of American election administration.1 In fact, the period between the Civil War and the turn of the century amounted to a decades long running debate over how Americans voted, and recovering the political...

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3. “To Promote the Exercise of That Right”: The Twentieth Century

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pp. 72-93

Nineteenth-century federal interventions in election law altered how and when Americans voted, erected supervisory regimes that endured for decades, changed the constitutional text itself (with the Reconstruction Amendments), and strengthened doctrines interpreting older text (particularly the Elections Clause) in a way that would provide crucial support for...

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4. Mediated Popular Sovereignty: Local Suffrage Practices and American Self-Rule

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pp. 94-119

Between the disc jockey’s tables and the food tent, Gadsden County election supervisor Shirley Green Knight set up her new optical-scan voting machine at a Sawdust town party one late-spring evening in 2004. One of Florida’s poorest counties and its only majority-black county, Gadsden had the highest rate of disqualified ballots in the presidential election of 2000. Knight, who...

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5. Exclusion, Equality, and the Local Dimension of American Suffrage

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pp. 120-149

Whereas the lasting images of the 2000 presidential contest were Palm Beach County’s butterfly ballot and the faces of beleaguered recount officers peering deep into the dimples of chad, the 2004 election gave us the voters of Ohio. Some city voters gave up after inadequate numbers of voting machines forced them to stand in line for hours, while their peers in nearby suburban...

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pp. 151-158

In the United States, voting has always been a local practice. To say this is not to deny the considerable importance of national and state constitutions and statutes in shaping American suffrage. But we have erred by focusing too much on the formal, symbolic, and constitutional aspects of “the right to vote” and on the aggregate sense of “voter behavior.” As powerful as these approaches...


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pp. 159-220


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pp. 221-231

E-ISBN-13: 9780826516558
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826516534
Print-ISBN-10: 082651653X

Page Count: 240
Publication Year: 2009

OCLC Number: 475534716
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Way We Vote

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Suffrage -- United States -- History.
  • Voting -- United States -- History.
  • Election officials -- United States -- History.
  • United States -- Politics and government.
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