Historic ballot box patented in 1884 on display at Eagle Public Library | VailDaily.com

Historic ballot box patented in 1884 on display at Eagle Public Library

The Eagle County Historical Society and County Clerk Regina O’Brien, far right, check out historic ballot boxes on display at the Eagle Public Library. From left is Janice Tonz, Sandy Van Campen, history librarian Matthew Mikelson, Joanne Cermak and O’Brien.
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Along with the delivery of ballots, the Eagle County Clerk’s Office and Eagle County Historical Society delivered a little bit of election history this week. An early day ballot box, patented in 1884, is on display in the History Department of the Eagle Public Library through the election season.

County Clerk’s office employees recently discovered two of the 136-year-old, wood-and-glass ballot boxes during some storeroom cleaning and handed the artifacts over to the Eagle County Historical Society. Supplementing the ballot boxes is the county’s first Voter Abstract Ledger, a large record book detailing the results of local elections from 1884 through 1924.

“These artifacts and record books tell the story of a fledgling county whose citizens were eager to take on the responsibilities of democratic self-government. We appreciate Eagle County’s willingness to share these treasures,” said Eagle County Historical Society President Kathy Heicher.

Eagle County Historical Society Archivist Jaci Spuhler spent hours cleaning grime and dust off the ballot boxes and researching the history of the artifacts. Marketed as the National Ballot Box, the boxes were invented and manufactured by Amos Pettibone of Chicago in response to election corruption in San Francisco. The election-rigging involved a ballot box with a false bottom that concealed pre-marked ballots for a specific candidate. Angry voters demanded more transparency in the election process.

Pettibone figured out the solution: a locking wood frame containing a glass dome that ballots could be dropped into and observed constantly. Opening the box to reach the ballots involved undoing three locks with several different keys. Citizens could watch the voting process and be certain of the results.

“Give those early-day Eagle County commissioners credit for investing in state-of-the-art election equipment,” Heicher said.

This ingenious ballot box design ensures that the voting process is transparent, and that the ballots cannot be tampered with without considerable effort.
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Two plainer, wooden box ballot boxes were also donated to the Historical Society. The ballot boxes will ultimately be displayed in the Eagle County History Museum.

The Voter Abstract book is archived at the Eagle Public Library, which partners with the Eagle County Historical Society in making historic records accessible to the public. That book too reveals some interesting bits of local history. For example, 306 ballots were cast in the county’s first election on Nov. 4, 1884. There were nine voter precincts in the county, including the mining camps of Taylor Hill, Mitchell, Red Cliff, Cleveland (Gilman), Rock Creek and Dotsero. The agricultural precincts were Sheephorn, Brush Creek and “Lakes” (Edwards). Minturn, Avon, Eagle and Gypsum are not part of the picture until a few years later.

The ledger book also reveals the county’s steady population growth, settlement patterns and social trends. In 1893, when Colorado gave women the right to vote, Eagle County was on board, voting 415-257 in favor of women’s suffrage.  

The historic ballot box will be on display on the second floor of the Eagle Library through Election Day. Stop by to take a look. Consider it a reminder to cast those 2020 ballots. The Voter Abstract ledger can be viewed upon request to the library’s History Department.

Learn more about Eagle County history by visiting the Eagle County Historical Society website, eaglecountyhistoricalsociety.com.

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