December 9, 2013

Case File #013.12.09: BALLOT

In a time long before the days of printed forms and electronic tallying machines, voting was a highly secret affair, and to help keep their choices a secret, people sometimes cast their votes by surreptitiously dropping little colored balls into marked containers. Around 1540, English speakers began to refer to these balls as ballots, a word they derived from the Old Italian word ballotta, which meant “little ball.” About that same time, the containers into which the balls were dropped became known as ballot boxes, and the verb sense of ballot, meaning “the action or system of voting,” came into use soon after. By the time the nineteenth century rolled around, though, slips of paper had replaced the little balls as the voting implements of choice, yet ballot, despite its spherical roots, has to this day remained the common designation for the means of casting a vote and for the action of voting.

©2013 Michael R. Gates

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