Things You Didn’t Know About Elections

by Curt Kovener

We just finished up the mid-term elections. And there was a collective sigh of relief afterward…sort of like after popping a pimple. But take heart, there is another election—for municipalities— less than a year away.
But maybe you’d like to learn some of the lesser known facts about elections over the centuries.
•Ancient Greece was not the birthplace of democracy. Two thousand years earlier in the kingdom of Ebla, located in what is now Syria, kings were elected for seven-year terms.
•Humans are not the only ones that vote. When it is time to find a new hive, honeybees vote for the best location, even though they can’t count. After scouts return from casing possible sites, they dance. The bees that dance most vigorously will recruit other scouts until one site wins.
•Divining the human decision-making process is tougher. The first election poll in the United States was conducted in 1824 by the Harrisburg Pennsylvanian newspaper. It accurately predicted that Andrew Jackson would win the most votes in the presidential race, but unfortunately, the poll didn’t predict the winner, because Jackson didn’t get enough votes in the electoral college. The House of Representatives gave the presidency to John Quincy Adams.
•On election night in 1952, TV viewers saw Walter Cronkite sitting beside UNIVAC 1, which famously called the race for Eisenhower after only 7 percent of the vote had been tallied. Well, not quite. Cronkite sat beside a cardboard panel with blinking Christmas lights. The real computer projecting returns was actually in Pennsylvania.
•In 2007 neuroscientists examined the brain activity of undecided voters as they viewed the leading presidential candidates in the race. The two candidates who elicited the least amount of activity? John McCain and Barack Obama.
•The lever voting machine was invented by Jacob H. Myers and was first used in 1892 in Lockport, New York. Myers said it was designed to “make the process of casting the ballot perfectly plain, simple, and secret.” At the time, the machine had more moving parts than nearly any other contraption in the United States.
•For the 2006 elections, the Department of Defense launched a Web-based voting system for overseas military personnel and American expatriates. The system cost more than $830,000; 63 people used it to vote.
•Rain can tilt elections. Between 1948 and 2000, for every inch of rain on Election Day in a given county, there was an average 0.8 percent decline in turnout.
•Computer modeling has indicated that if it had rained in Illinois in 1960, Nixon would have beaten Kennedy—and if it had been sunny in Florida in 2000, Gore would have beaten Bush.
And I didn’t make this up. I got it from Discover magazine. And I don’t think they made it up either.