Tracing voting history back to Western New York

WESTFIELD, N.Y. (WIVB) –You may or may not be surprised to know that Western New York plays a huge role in past presidential elections. Chautauqua County was one of the spots where some of the voting practices you see today, originated.

Hidden in the Village of Westfield is the McClurg Mansion. There you can find exhibits dating all the way back to 1812.

Curator for the museum, John Paul Wolfe, told News 4,”We have we believe between 4 and 500 thousand items in the building!”

What’s most noteworthy in this political year is the exhibit showing the role Western New York played in the election system.

Wolfe shared, “It’s both state campaign buttons, National campaign buttons, and local Chautauqua County election things.”

Something the historical society holds near and dear to their heart is a voting box.

Wolfe said, “Chautauqua County became a county in 1811 and the first time people were allowed to vote was 1812, so this is the voting box from 1812.”

Leaders brought the box around town so neighbors could vote. Once voting was over, the voting commissioner would put paper and a wax seal on the box to ensure no votes got tampered with.

Wolfe said that some history was made from doing so. He explained, “That’s where the term stuffing the ballot box came from because you can stuff as many as you want in there, but you can’t take them out.”

The voting machine didn’t always look like how it does now. The McClurg mansion had a machine made by Standard Voting Company from many years ago. The company originated in Rochester but moved to Jamestown and became a household name.

Wolfe said after moving to Jamestown, “They made pretty much all the voting machines that were used in the 40s, 50s, and 60s for the entire country.”

Voting machines today are similar to what they were in the nineteenth century but what we vote for is of course much different.

He shared with news 4,”You’ve got Republican Party, Democrat Party, Socialist Labor party, and the Prohibition Party. And up here the questions are concerning women’s suffrage.”

In a little over a century our country has gone from a ballot which inquired about women’s rights to vote to a ballot with a female presidential nominee. provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Commenters who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. Please be respectful of the opinions of others. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review. Note: Comments containing links are not allowed.

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