When and where was the first US "Butterfly ballot" used in a presidential election? Was it:

  • 1996

    In 1996, it was clear that some people who intended to vote for Bob Dole accidentally voted for a different candidate. This is because the ballot looked something like:

    Bill Clinton                     O
                                     O                                Ross Perot
    Bob Dole                         O
                                     O                              Harry Browne

    ( -- From Brythan's answer to What are the repercussions of a poorly designed ballot?)

  • 2000

    In 2000, to accommodate the large number of presidential candidates eligible in Florida, LePore designed a staggered two-page format with candidate names on alternating sides of a central punch button column. Conservatives falsely commented that the same ballot was successfully used in the 1996 election; in fact, it had never been used in a Palm Beach County election among rival candidates for office.[8] ...

    -- From Wikipedia's page on Theresa LePore, which appears to refute the claim that 1996 was the first US "Butterfly ballot". WP's citation [8] references:

    Greenfield, Jeff (2001). "Oh, Waiter! One Order of Crow!". New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons. pp. 215–216.

  • Did anyone find an actual illustration of the 1996 ballot described? Nov 24, 2018 at 1:55

1 Answer 1


The 2000 Palm Beach County ballot may be the first use of this for a presidential race. But I've found no evidence of a 1996 ballot as illustrated in the question. As there is no central repository of ballots across the US, it may not be possible to answer the question of when it was first used with any certainty.


In 1965 the Votomatic data registering device was patented. The application for the patent was filed in 1962, so it may have been first used between those dates, however none of the photos from that era show the "butterfly" ballot style in use.

After the 2000 election, one of the inventors of the Votomatic system said they had anticipated the problem with using both side early on, and that they had rejected the concept.

A published paper titled The Butterfly Did It: The Aberrant Vote for Buchanan in Palm Beach County, Florida credits "innovation" of butterfly ballots to the supervisor of elections in Palm Beach County. The same article also does mention the 1996 election, bit without illustration nor apparent claim that it was a butterfly ballot. However it presents extensive analysis of the statistics of the 1996 election and comparing them to statistics of the 2000 election. They did not identify there was any anomaly in the 1996 voting. This the presence of this analysis might have led to confusion about the format of the 1996 ballot.

But by 2000 other jurisdictions were clearly using the butterfly style, possibly earlier, but other examples seem to be from races with extremely large numbers of candidates.. For example the book Design for Democracy: Ballot + Election Design by Marcia Lausen, discusses a Cook County, IL, judicial retention ballot, also in November 2000, which reportedly included 73 candidates and spanned 10 pages in Votomatic butterfly format. The author may have selected this example because it "interleaved" yes and no votes.

Lausen goes on to cite even earlier cases where an extremely large number of candidates may have caused ballot designers to choose poor layouts, dating as far back as 1969 (it is not clear if these were done on Votomatic equipment or butterfly style.)

Background Information

enter image description here

The following photo shows a Votomatic used in "butterfly" configuration in the 2000 presidential general election in Palm Beach County, Florida. enter image description here

A portion of the 2000 Judicial Retention butterfly ballot pictured below. Image from Design for Democracy... book, copyright 2007 by The University of Chicago: enter image description here

  • 1
    This photo show a question where all choices are listed of the left side, each next to a punching hole. There seem to be no possible choices on the right side of the punching holes, which AFAIU is what defines a "butterfly ballot".
    – Evargalo
    Nov 23, 2018 at 12:17
  • What Evergalo said, but the picture is useful in that it suggests that these punch card hole designs have carried over to modern non-punch designs (for no obvious functional reason).
    – agc
    Nov 23, 2018 at 15:52
  • After further research, and I'm less sure my answer should be considered an answer, particularly from the bounty point of view. I gather that's achieved automaticly if it receives less than 2 upvotes. Nov 23, 2018 at 22:03
  • I've done what I can to update this answer, but still feel it is unlikely to be provable. The book mentioned or it's author seem like they might provide additional information, only a subset of pages is available online. Nov 24, 2018 at 1:50
  • @Burt_Harris, Excellent additions. If the data is uncertain, the answer should be too. (Sorry, I would liked to have given it the bounty, but unfortunately I was not on SE on the last day.)
    – agc
    Nov 25, 2018 at 16:44

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