POLYAS Election Glossary

We provide explanations and background information on elections, voting rights and digital democracy

Voting Booth

A voting booth refers to a small room or space in which voters are able to secretly cast their ballot. It is located inside a polling station. Voting booths are important as they ensure voter secrecy. For this reason, voters enter the booth unaccompanied unless they require special assistance. In some states in the US, photographing the ballot or even using a cellphone when inside the booth is illegal. 

For much of the history of the United States, voter booths were not present at polling sites. There was no expectation that one would vote in secret. Until the end of the 1800s, states such as Kentucky actually had voters vote via 'voice', meaning they would simply tell an election official who they were electing. Around the turn of the 20th century, however, all states had voting booths. Some of these booths were expansive, with New York having enermous lever machines. Nowadays most booths are simply small spaces with a curtain hiding the voter. 

A polling station is required to be occupied by election officials throughout the election period. Helpers ensure that sealed ballot boxes are not opened or removed, voters are not coerced into voting for certain candidates, and there are no documents or posters that could influence decision makers. In the USA, most states have laws that prevent political parties from campaigning within a certain distance of the voting booth. Some election judges at polling sites even go so far as to ask that voters do not wear politically themed clothing and paraphernalia into the voting booth. This is to prevent voter intimidation. 

See also: Ballot Paper, Polling Place, Voting Machine

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