Today, Americans will be electing the 44th President of the United States. To give you something to read while you stand in line at the polling places, here are five interesting facts about elections and voting:
1. In colonial times, a common “get out the vote” strategy was for candidates to offer alcohol at the polling places. When George Washington ran for the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1758 he brought out 28 gallons of rum, 50 gallons of rum punch, 34 gallons of wine, 46 gallons of beer, and two gallons of cider royal. Although it was almost enough for every voter to half a half-gallon of booze, Washington worried his campaign manager had “spent with too sparing a hand” and wouldn’t have enough. (It worked: Washington got 331 votes, more than his three rivals.)
2. The Ohio Constitution includes a clause (Article V, Section 6) that prohibits “idiots” from voting (No idiot, or insane persons, shall be entitled to the privileges of an elector). The provision was added in 1851 to prevent people of diminished mental capacity from voting. In 1970, the Ohio Constitutional Revision Commission noted that, “The lack of procedure for determining who is ‘insane’ or an ‘idiot’ could allow persons whose opinions are unpopular or whose lifestyles are disapproved to be challenged at the polls, and they may lose their right to vote without the presentation of any medical evidence whatsoever.” Despite this concern, the language remains unchanged.
3. The 19th Amendment—which guarantees women’s right to vote—doesn’t directly mention women. The text states: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.” In fact, the Constitution is a gender-neutral document. (As the Heritage Guide to the Constitution notes, “The word ‘male’ did not even appear in the Constitution until the Fourteenth Amendment was ratified in 1868.) Even before the amendment nothing in the original Constitution directly barred women from voting.
4. NASA astronauts who are in space on Election Day are allowed to vote, thanks to a law passed by the Texas legislature in 1997. NASA makes arrangements with county officials who prepare the ballots and beam them up from Mission Control. The procedure was first used in 1997 by David Wolf, who was aboard Russia’s Mir space station at the time and voted in a local election. The first American to vote in a presidential election from space was Leroy Chiao, who did it while commanding the International Space Station’s Expedition 10 mission in 2004.
5. Gerald Ford was the only president never elected as president or vice-president. After the resignation of Vice President Spiro Agnew in 1973, President Nixon appointed Ford as the replacement (under the authority of the 25th Amendment, which has only been adopted six years earlier). Nine months later, when Nixon resigned, Ford became president without anyone having voted for him in a presidential election. In 1976, 39,148,634 people did vote for Ford, but he lost his reelection (election?) bid to Jimmy Carter.