Home > 1856-1892 Campaigns, 1888 Campaign > 1888–Voter Tickets–Ryan Castle

1888–Voter Tickets–Ryan Castle

The voter tickets are an important piece of rhetoric in the 1888 election between Benjamin Harrison and Grover Cleveland as it centers on an important issue that received significant notice, yet was not done justice; the idea that Harrison “bought” the 1888 election in key states primarily the hotly contested swing state of Indiana.

In this Gilded Age there was no such thing as a secret ballot. The political parties would simply print ballots and give them to their voters who would in turn use them at polling stations. Each state would produce different ballots for each party but the ballots that were distributed were easily changeable. The Democratic ballot for Cleveland shown as the ballot to the far right for example, has several alterations. The Republican candidate, D.B. Henderson is ink stamped over the crossed out Democratic one. Also, the State Ticket candidates for Railroad Commissioners has a slip of paper pasted over it with the names of the Republican candidates. The county ticket is also altered as P.S. Webster, the republican candidate for County Attorney is written over the crossed out Democratic candidate, M.T. McNutly. Changes to the ballots, like the one shown, illustrate how easy it was to steal votes in that era, but the controversy over stolen votes has a bigger story to tell.

The first whiff of scandal started with Matthew Quay, the Republican senator of Pennsylvania. Quay was made chairman of the Republican National Committee right before the 1888 election. With the idea to win small majorities in highly populated states, Quay spent lots of money to buy voters throughout various states. Some questionable results illustrating this include the mere 2,400 votes garnered by Harrison in Indiana despite receiving 15 electoral votes, the 14,400 votes won by Cleveland in New York and 36 electoral votes in contrast to 55,000 votes won by him in Mississippi against only 9 electoral votes and Cleveland’s 60,000 votes in Georgia while receiving only 12 electoral votes. Throughout these states, Cleveland won the popular vote yet Harrison won the electoral. New York would of had particular importance to Harrison in that it was Cleveland’s home state.

However, there was no question that Indiana was the most hotly contested state in the 1888 election. In fact,1888 was regarded as one of the most intense political campaigns in decades. Cleveland had won Indiana in 1884 and, since it was Harrison’s home state in the current election, he needed it for honors sake and it didn’t help that Indiana was dead even at the time. This pushed Harrison to take an extra step to secure it. That step was to elect republican campaigner William Wade Dudley as Treasurer of the Republican National Committee. Dudley was known for condemning democrats who violated election laws and the Republican party was known to be firmly against it. However, Dudley proved to be a hypocrite. In a circular letter to Indiana’s county chairmen, he told them “Divide the floaters into blocks of five, and put a trusted man with the necessary funds in charge of these five, and make them responsible that none get away and that all vote our ticket.” The term “floaters” referred to voters who would sell their vote for money. Dudley’s plan failed near the end of the election, however, when an Indiana railway postal agent came in contact with one of the letters which led to the Democrats distributing thousands of copies of it nationwide. Dudley fought the allegations to the bitter end, but continued buying voters.

The realization of Quay and Dudley’s actions had extremely important impacts on America’s voting system. In fact, the consequences of this wrongdoing stirred the nation to change their voting procedure entirely. The nation switched from printed ballots and created the secret ballot. The secret ballot, where a voter writes their choice on a piece of paper and puts it into a box to be counted, ensures the voter’s privacy so no acts of fraud can occur.

Interestingly enough, despite this illegal act and the public’s knowledge thereof, Harrison won the election while losing the popular vote, an extremely rare occurrence amongst American elections. While Harrison knew well of Dudley’s deviousness, he faced no repercussions. Perhaps the reason why Harrison won regardless was due to his more active campaigning or maybe Quay and Dudley actually did play an important role. Either way, voter fraud could be an important clue as to why Harrison won the election even though Cleveland had more of the popular vote.


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