This ballot box was donated to our collection in 1958. It is made of wood with two equally sized compartments, a turned wooden handle and a sliding lid set in a slot with a funnel-like hole on the top.
The box was used by the Order of Odd Fellows Lodge, called the American Lodge, in Deadwood, and dates to the late 19th century.
Fraternal organizations like Odd Fellows and Freemasons used ballots boxes like this one to decide elections, motions, projects, and vote for new members.
Marbles or balls were dropped into the box through the hole on top. Most lodges used white balls for a “yes” vote and black balls or black cubes for a “no” vote. Some used red balls for “undecided” votes.
The box was passed around to members using the handle. Some boxes had an additional board to cover the hand of the voter to maintain confidentiality.
When the box was opened it was easy to see the number of black balls to determine if the motion passed or failed. This is where the term “blackballing” comes from. No person could be admitted to the organization if black balls were cast in the membership vote.
Generally, the votes were secret, unanimous, independent, and took place when all members were present. The members did not discuss how they voted. The ball used to vote made a sound when it was dropped into the box, and only one marble per member could be used. The result of the vote could not be appealed once it was declared by the Grand Master, the elected officer of the lodge.