Butterfly Ballots and Hanging Chads: Our New (Old) Voting Machine

voting booth

Instructions posted inside the booth from Palm Beach County, FL

We are excited to have received a new item recently—a vintage voting machine—thanks to Dean Charles Bierbauer of the College of Information and Communication.  Close examination shows it was most recently used in Palm Beach County, Florida, during the presidential election of 2000.  Palm Beach County was the epicenter of that election’s historic recount controversy.


Dean Charles Bierbauer

An incredibly close contest between Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Al Gore hinged on Florida and the recount of the Florida vote.  Previously unfamiliar, but suddenly ubiquitous, was the technical vocabulary about these Palm Beach County voting machines, with their punch-card “butterfly” ballots and a tendency towards “hanging” and “pregnant” chads.  Disputes over the counting of ballots in Palm Beach County led to court challenges including Bush v. Palm Beach County Canvassing Board et al. and Bush v. Gore, both of which wound up in the Supreme Court of the United States.  The Court’s decision in the latter case ultimately allowed certification of Florida’s electoral votes for George W. Bush, giving him a narrow Electoral College victory.

(See a post about our other voting machine received from Congressman Joe Wilson’s office back in 2012.  You may have seen it on exhibit here in the Hollings Library, and even voted on it as part of our mock election this past fall!)

By Dorothy Walker

voting machine

This type of voting machine folds up into a briefcase for easy handling. We have a similar one that was donated to us several years ago by Congressman Joe Wilson.

When we opened it, we found the official sample ballot for the general election in Palm Beach County, Florida, on November 7, 2000.

The term “butterfly ballot” derived from the listing of candidates’ names on both sides of the ballot, with the ballot to be “punched” in the center. This was a brand new style of ballot for the 2000 election, designed by Palm Beach County’s supervisor of elections. Some voters reported that they found the ballot’s format confusing and that they accidentally voted for Reform candidate Pat Buchanan (#4) when they intended to vote for Democratic candidate Al Gore (#5).

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