Indiana Pioneer Elections

Indiana Pioneer Elections

Indiana did not become a state until 1816; however, the first elections in the area that became Indiana were held in 1805 when voters elected representatives to the lower house of the Territorial General Assembly. At that time Clark, Dearborn, and Knox were the only counties in the territory that became Indiana. Clark and Dearborn Counties elected one representative each; Knox County reached as far north as Fort Wayne and Chicago; Knox, being the largest county, had two representatives.

Only those owning fifty acres of land could vote at that time. In 1808 the privilege to vote was also given to owners of town lots worth $100. By 1811 voting by ballot replaced oral voting, and anyone who could show a tax receipt could vote.

After Indiana became a state in 1816, all white males over the age of twenty-one could vote in the county in which they had lived for one year. By that time the list of officials on the ballot included practically all county officials, the governor and lieutenant governor, and the members of the General Assembly as well as the lower house of Congress. The first year that people in Indiana could vote in a presidential election was 1824.

In 1817 if a county official was puzzled about some procedure, he had to ask the proper state official for a ruling. Sometimes it took several months before a clerk in Posey County could receive a reply from the Governor or Secretary of State in Corydon. Due to slow communication, persons elected in August might not receive their commissions and be sworn into office until six months later.

For the first twenty-some years annual elections were held on the first Monday of August, except for special elections, which were often called between times to fill vacancies. During the early years of the state, only around half of the county officials served out their full terms because the population was constantly shifting, and sometimes the official did not move but the county boundaries did; therefore, the elected official ended up in a different county than the one in which he was elected.

In order to avoid voter fraud, the first election law stated that persons attempting to hand in two or more ballots folded together or to vote at more than one place in the county should be fined $50. If anyone attempted to bribe a voter or restrain his freedom of choice, the offender would be fined a sum of not more than $500. With general elections being “anything but quiet” and “spirits in abundance,” one might be fined for various things including swearing. In 1823 one Jennings County citizen petitioned the Governor for remission of an $8.00 fine “for swearing at the polls.”

Pioneer elections and reasons for holding unexpected ones were interesting to say the least. Some reasons for holding additional elections were: one of the election inspectors bet on the outcome, one of the election officials was not a resident of the county for a year, and one of the elected officers refused to serve. “Zebulin WALLACE of Hendricks Township, Shelby County, was fined $3.00 for refusing to serve as township trustee after being elected without his consent.”

In 1845 Congress changed Election Day from the first Monday of August to the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. At that time most of America was an agrarian society, and one had to go to the county seat to vote. Lawmakers chose November thinking that it would be more convenient than August because the fall harvest would be over, and in the majority of the nation the weather was still mild enough to travel. For many of the country folks it was an overnight trip by horseback or by buggy to the polling place. If elections were held on Mondays, voters would have to leave on Sunday, and Sundays were reserved for church. The reason the first Tuesday after the first Monday was chosen, was because the merchants did their books from the preceding month on the first of the month, and Congress was worried that the economic success or failure of the previous month might prove an undue influence on the vote.

Clay County Indiana