The Australian Ballot

March 17, 1894


The Watson Bill passes in the Virginia Legislature, which aims to manipulate the ballot from illiterate men, who are mostly black.


The so-called Australian Ballot law recently passed by the Virginia legislature and known as the Walton Bill is one of the most outrageous measures ever enacted by any state for the disenfranchisement of the colored man,- the amendments to the Constitution of Mississippi not excepted.
The measure will go into effect July 1, 1894, and the election of congressmen next fall will take place under its provisions.
But let us consider this hybrid measure, which is but an adjunct to the scandalous Anderson-McCormick Electoral Boards law.
Any person can be a candidate for any office, state or national, and have his name entered on the official ticket or ballot by notifying the Secretary of the Commonwealth, not more than thirty nor less than twenty days before the election.
In the case of a person, being a candidate for any other office not specified, notice must be given the clerk of the county or hustings court.
The official ballot will contain the names of all the candidates and there is no designation of any if them by Party, they being all printed together. This makes it especially difficult for an illiterate voter tell who not to scratch out.
It provides for a compartment or booth in which the voter must go to mark his ballot, being allowed two and one half minutes in which si to do. A name must be scratched three fourth of the length of the line.
Should a person fail to scratch all but the name of one person for a particular office, the ballot is void or useless so far as that office is concerned.
No one is allowed to bring away an official ballot; neither can a voter see it until it is given him by the judge of election.
This is done in order to keep any Republican from becoming familiar with the ballot and thus be able to vote it promptly.
Any person who remains in the booth longer than two minutes and a half will be required to return the ballot to the judge of election and not be allowed to vote unless the judges decide to give him another trial and no one else desires to vote.
The Electoral Board of each county and city shall appoint for each voting precinct therein one special constable, who shall be allowed one dollar per day,-the judges and clerks receive five dollars per day.
He shall have the power to arrest any person upon the verbal order or warrant of the judges of election.
This special constable may assist any voter who is physically or educationally unable to prepare his ballot.
He can point out to a person who is unable to read or write the names of the persons he may desire to strike out.
The use of the word “may” renders it optional with the special constable as to whether he will assist an illiterate voter or not.
He may take a longer time to show him what names to strike out than the law allows and this rob him of his vote.
Persons cannot assemble within one hundred feet of any voting places.
It will thus be seen that the special constable, where there is a large illiterate vote decides the election, and where there is not the bourbon democratic electoral board, with corrupt judges get in its work.
The voter is to be subjected to the old time system of challenging,-gray headed men being asked if they are 21 years of age, and then forced to run the gauntlet of a ballot which is puzzling even to the educated.
The law will enable the machine to count our white men with the same facility as colored ones.
Under the Anderson-McCormick law all of the members of the electoral boards are democrats and all three of the judges of election may be democrats.
The democratic special constable is an anomaly. He could have his illiterate white ward or county-heelers spotted, and when they called him into booth hand them a marked official ballot previously obtained and take the unnamed one from the voter, make it and be ready for the next “innocent.”
This the method of these bourbon democrats who have for more than twenty years yelled about federal interference in the elections in their section.
Let northern men mark this infamous measure. :et them note this other outrageous law to which this is added. The electoral boards, which have charge of the elections is comprised of all democrats.
The judges of elections may all be democrats.
The special constable who virtually decides the election in illiterate sections will be a democrat.
For extreme partisans, this measure out-Herods Herod, and adds to Virginia’s woes another batch of corrupt election officials.
What will the end be?
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Upper Right Quadrant


Contributed By

Carlos Serrano


“The Australian Ballot,” Black Virginia: The Richmond Planet, 1894-1909, accessed May 20, 2019,