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MADE IN WNY: Jamestown’s voting machines


Now that our election season is (mercifully) over, we can heave a sigh of relief that America avoided another “Florida Syndrome” election. All the drama and worry over vote counts could be avoided if Florida and other states simply took advantage of a technology developed in WNY and perfected in Jamestown over 100 years ago—the voting machine.

The first voting machine, created by Rochester inventor Jacob Myers, was used in Lockport in 1892. That experiment was a success and the voting machine was lauded as “the inventive triumph of its age” because it solved many of the problems of the paper ballot, specifically social injustice and fraud. Now immigrants and other illiterate voters who struggled with paper ballots could vote in secrecy, while corrupt election officials could not easily manipulate results. Unfortunately, mechanical flaws in Myers’ machine led to problems in the 1896 elections. His Board of Directors fired him and liquidated Myers American Ballot Machine Co. In shame, Myers headed for the Yukon gold rush to seek his fortune.

In 1898, a new voting machine from the Standard Voting Machine Co. was successfully used in Buffalo and Rochester, ensuring that the voting machine was here to stay. Designed by Alfred Gillespie, an Iowa inventor who had moved to WNY, the machine was the first to allow voters to change their votes and featured a privacy curtain. Gillespie and Standard were promptly sued by the United States Voting Machine Company of Jamestown, founded by Sylvaneus Davis, a former employee of Myers. The lawsuit was settled, in part, with the founding of the United States Standard Voting Machine Co. in 1900 which bought the patents of both Gillespie’s and Davis’ companies. This combination evolved into the Automatic Voting Machine Co., which dominated the lever voting machine industry from its location on Jones and Gifford Avenue in Jamestown until its bankruptcy in 1983.