Sometimes the ayes have it, sometimes the nays have it – and one time, Thomas Edison had it.

It’s Election Day, though when we talk about Election Day we’re often really talking about Election Night, because we want to see those vote totals, find out who won and who didn’t.

Here’s a story about an early and not-too-well-known effort to help count votes that came from none other than Thomas Edison.


This was actually Edison’s very first patent, issued back in June of 1869.

Newspapers had been reporting on how lawmakers in New York State and Washington D.C.’s city council were both looking for ways to use technology to speed up the vote counting, so they didn’t have to listen to roll calls.

Edison, who was just 22 at the time, had a device he thought would help.

His “electrographic vote recorder” put each voting member’s name on the front in a “yes” column and again in a “no” column.

They would each turn a switch to cast a vote, and the system would both create a roll call that could be documented on special paper, while also providing vote totals for the yeas and nays.

An investor, Dewitt Roberts, brought the idea to Capitol Hill, but Congress gave the device a resounding “nay.”

Officially they said they didn’t think it would really speed up the votes that much, though Congress-watchers have long noted that are times when lawmakers have found it advantageous to slow down the voting process, to delay passing a bill, or block it altogether.

You can’t say, though, that this experience slowed Thomas Edison down.

He may not be remembered today as the inventor of the electrographic vote recorder, but he ended up doing pretty well for himself.


There are countless polling places across the country.

Many are in places you might expect, like schools or city halls, while others are a little less common.

Photographer Ryan Donnell has been documenting some of the most unusual polling places in the country, and there are lots of them, from luxury hotels to Vietnamese restaurants, pool halls, laundromats and indoor playgrounds.

Thomas Edison’s First Patented Invention—a Voting Machine for Congress—Was a Total Flop (Mental Floss)

Ryan Donnell: Polling Places (Wonderful Machine)

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Photo via Smithsonian OpenAccess/Creative Commons