Wednesday, March 16, 2016

So what's new at the museum?

I've been working on a new exhibit for the 2016 season -- "Politics & Voting." A couple years ago the Baraga County Tourism and Recreation Association asked if we'd like to have the voting machine that was taking up space in the building where they parked the snowmobile trail groomer. I said yes, of course. At the time I wasn't exactly sure where the machine came from. I thought it was L'Anse Township. Turned out it was actually Baraga Township, not that it makes much difference.

When the machine rolled in the door, it was covered with a remarkably thick layer of soot from the diesel exhaust from various vehicles. The machine had been sitting for a couple decades in a building used for parking the snowmobile trail groomer. It was locked so I was a little afraid that once we actually got it open the interior would be as filthy as the exterior, but it wasn't bad. We had to drill the lock out on the front because I wasn't able to track down a key, but once we got it open I was relieved to see that it apparently closed up tight enough that not much soot got in.

Opening the machine helped a bit with dating when it was last used, too. The labels for the political parties were still on the handles on one side. Those labels include the Tisch Independent Party. The Tisch Independent Party is a Michigan phenomenon. Bob Tisch founded the party in 1982; on the 1984 ballot he's the only candidate from that party running for anything. He apparently managed to recruit some acolytes because the party is still around, but is now known in Michigan as the U.S. Taxpayers Party. On a national level, they're affiliated with the Constitution Party. Which I guess is where the Tea Party types hang out who think the Republican Party today is much too liberal.

Anyway, because the Tisch Independent Party changed its name and was listed on the 1994 ballot as the U.S. Taxpayers Party but it's still Tisch on this voting machine, I now know that the absolute last time the machine might have been used is 1992.

So, besides the voting machine, what else do I have to play with for the exhibit? Instructional ballots from various elections. Poll books. Bumper stickers. Campaign buttons. Unused actual ballots from some early elections, like one from 1894. Brochures. A flyswatter some candidate handed out 30 or 40 years ago. A Bush-Quayle yard sign. A Dennis Kucinich tee-shirt. I've got plenty of material; the one thing I'm lacking is space. I'd love to put a mannequin in period costume behind a table with some poll books in front of him (we've got some from 1916) but don't think there's quite enough open square footage. Can't win them all.

I am thinking about setting out some empty milk bottles with candidates' names on them with a suggestion visitors vote for the person they think will win the Presidential election. I'm not sure I should, though. I fear that when we're only going to be open two days a week (not enough bodies able to volunteer) this coming summer there'd be so few people voting that seeing just two or three pennies in the bottom of a bottle would be too depressing -- especially if the handful of coins were all in the Trump jar. .


  1. "The machine had been sitting for a couple decades in a building used for parking the snowmobile trail groomer. It was locked so I was a little afraid that once we actually got it open the interior would be as filthy as the exterior, but it wasn't bad."

    How do you unlock a voting booth with sliding curtains on the front of it?

  2. The bar the curtains are attached to lifts up and swings down into the machine and the metal front closes and locks. There's a lock on the back, too, where the election board unlocks the machine to read the totals and record them on a spread sheet. After the results are recorded, the machine is sealed front and back. After everything is locked and sealed, you use a crank to drop the top half down so the overall height for storage is maybe 4 feet. I'll post some photos on the museum's Facebook page ( next time I'm down there.

  3. We still use the old voting booths in the town hall I used when I first voted in 1972 at age 20. And up until the last election, we shoved our ballots into a big wooden box with a slide closure firmly in the grasp and critical eye of one the blue haired ladies who step up when volunteers are needed run the voting process here in town. Now, we feed our ballots into the mouth of a very ominous looking contraption that snatches out of the hand and swallows it. The first time I fed it, I almost jumped back.

    The curtains on the voting booths have been replaced a couple of times. But I think they are still using the same pencils I used in 1972, only now they are all about 1 inch long.

  4. ah too bad..cause that sounds cool...

  5. I remember voting in one of those things.


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