Election FAQs

When was this project completed?
This project was completed with funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities and ended on April 3, 2016. All data entry was completed prior to that date.

What are candidates?
These are the names of those running for public office, as the names are written on the ballots. Often voting was done by party ballots, and an individual or legislature would vote for all candidates running under the banner of particular party. Voting was done in a variety of ways. Voice voting and not-so-secret balloting were common, depending on the state. Often the ballots were not preprinted. Because the spelling of names was not standardized at this time, voters had to cast their votes by writing out the name of the party or person running for office. Within this system there was room for error, and there may be two candidates listed with the same name spelled slightly differently. In most cases, these two candidates were actually the same person, but this person may have been unable to be officially credited with votes from ballots where the name was misspelled. In the case of voice voting, the people voting declared orally for whom they wished to vote, and the vote was tallied by the election officials. In this atmosphere, it was considered rude to vote for yourself.

What were the parties during this time period?
The followers of Thomas Jefferson almost always referred to themselves as Republicans. However, the Federalists nearly always called them Democrats. The Republicans were also called Anti-Federalists, Whigs, and Jacobins. The Republicans likewise often called the Federalists by other names, such as Tories, Aristocrats, and Monarchists. When reporting election returns, Republican newspapers almost always classified their candidates as Republicans. However, a Federalist newspaper reporting the same election returns would list those same candidates as Democrats or Democratic. Republican newspapers used various names for the Federalist election tickets, and the parties themselves used a variety of labels. But in essence, there were only two parties during this time period: Republican and Federalist. After the war of 1812 there was a gradual shift among the Republicans to using the term Democrat or Democratic. Certain terms were considered derogatory and were applied by both parties to lessen the appeal of the opposition among the voting public. Chief among these terms were Democrat, Jacobin, Aristocrat, Monarchist, and Tory. One term that was not used by either party during this time was the infamous label Democratic-Republican. Neither the followers of Thomas Jefferson nor the Federalists used this term. It was invented by historians because they could not decide which term should be used to describe the party of Thomas Jefferson. We use the name that they themselves preferred, Republican.

What does "total" mean?
This is the total number of votes for a particular voting jurisdiction. Often the total is not known because returns are not available. For example, a county election may have returns from three out of five towns. Because two of the towns are missing it is impossible to know the total number of votes for the county. If you have additional information that is not included in our data, please contact Philip Lampi.

Why are some towns and counties missing?
This database is an ongoing project. We are still entering data from some 68,000 pages that Philip Lampi has spent 50 years collecting. Mr. Lampi's goal is to have a dataset that is 100% complete for this time period. As a consequence of the way in which election records were kept, many election returns have been lost. Fires, bad record keeping, and deterioration over time have made these elections very hard to investigate. It is truly amazing that Phil has found as many as he has. If you know of any election returns that we have not included, please contact us, and we will make every effort to add your election to our data. We are striving to assemble the most complete set of election data possible.

Why do different sources report different numbers, and how did you decide which number to put in the table?
Often the elections were reported in the newspapers following an election. Sometimes, newspapers would report numbers as they came in, much as they do on television the day of a presidential election. The newspaper may then report the official numbers in a later issue. When possible, we have tried to use the official numbers in the data. In cases where newspapers have reported different numbers, we have made notes of the differences. To draw on Phil's expertise, we have asked him to judge which records are most accurate. Whenever possible, Phil has tried to show the intent of the voter. This means that jurisdictions that may have been excluded from the official tally will be included in Phil's when those numbers are available.

What does the term reference refer to?
These are references to the newspapers and manuscripts that originally, at the time of the election, reported the election returns to contemporaries.

Where do I go to find election returns after 1825?
The ICPSR has a collection of election returns spanning from 1825 to 1960. For elections after 1960, you should be able to find the returns at the clerk's office for that jurisdiction. In many states, the secretary of state will have detailed returns for modern elections. One day we hope to have all the U.S. electoral data in one place.

What are the election data source images and where did they come from?
These are the scanned page images of Philip Lampi's notes and transcriptions. The original notes are housed at the American Antiquarian Society, Worcester, Massachusetts.

How do I cite this?
Lampi Collection of American Electoral Returns, 1787–1825. American Antiquarian Society, 2007.