This Is What Democracy Looked Like: A Visual History of the Printed Ballot

Princeton Architectural. May 2020. 176p. ISBN 9781616898878. $34.95. GRAPHIC ARTS
Until the polling debacle of the 2000 presidential election in Florida, few voters knew what a chad was or gave thought to the graphic design of this most consequential of government-issued documents. For decades, the paper ballot dominated polling places, replacing voice votes of the 1800s. Cheng (founding member, MGMT. design, Brooklyn) has produced a truly interdisciplinary work, employing the material culture of this country’s elections as the centerpiece of three essays on the democratic process. Following a preface by Princeton historian Julian E. Zelizer that, in two pages, frames astutely the mechanical challenges of elections, Cheng’s chapter clearly traces the messy complexity of voting, from the disparate printed designs of local and state elections to the patent for the voting booth. Victoria Bassetti (Brennan Ctr., New York Univ. Sch. of Law) closes the volume with a stern and compelling admonition on election integrity. Sandwiched in between are almost 200 glorious examples of printed, mostly letterpress, ballots, many with candidates’ names set in serpentine lines of type beneath semicircular party names and illustrations of flags, eagles, municipal buildings, and candidates’ portraits.
VERDICT For all American history and graphic design collections.
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