A bill that established the legal basis for the use of voting machines in New York elections was signed into law in March 1892.
Determined to clean up corruption at the polls, election reformers in the 1880s looked to Australia for inspiration. Australia had recently begun using a groundbreaking system that featured uniform, official ballots on which voters secretly checked the name of their preferred candidate and then discreetly deposited in a ballot box. Unfortunately, this system had a major flaw. It required that voters be able to read.
Recognizing an opportunity, an inventor living in Rochester named Jacob H. Myers (1841-1920) successfully designed and created one machine that could ensure secret voting and allow illiterate or non-English speaking citizens to cast their votes without assistance.
Because Myers' machine protected poor, immigrant, and working class voters from intimidation while protecting their right to vote, he liked to call it the "Poor Man's Voting Machine."
To ensure secret, one-time voting, Myers designed his machine around a large booth with an ingenious three door system. When a voter entered the booth, the entrance door locked behind him. After voting, the voter passed through an internal door which, when it closed, prevented them from going back into the voting compartment. Once the internal door closed it unlocked the exit door. When the voter opened the exit door, the mechanism released the lock on the entry door, sounded a bell, and the machine was ready for the next voter.
To enable illiterate voters to cast their votes without assistance, Myer's machine featured a keyboard inside with unique, color-coded columns for political parties and rows for political offices. A diagram showing this same arrangement was posted outside the machine, so voters could familiarize themselves with it before entering the machine to vote.
Myers' design quickly attracted bipartisan support, and in 1890 the Myers American Ballot Machine Co. began manufacturing voting machines in Rochester. A bill that established the legal basis for the use of voting machines in New York elections was signed into law in March 1892.
Mechanical voting machines not that far removed from the one created by Jacob Myers are still used today; New York City used over 5,000 such machines in the 2013 primary election.