Dynamic History of Electoral Technology Explored at Annual Innovation Event

October 22, 2012

Innovation in American elections has never been “politics as usual,” as audiences will learn when the Smithsonian’s Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation presents “Political Machines: Innovations in Campaigns and Elections” Nov. 2 – 3 at the National Museum of American History. The event will shift the current political focus away from the candidates to view elections through the lens of technology and innovation—examining technological developments from TV advertising in the 1950s to YouTube and George Gallup’s door-to-door pollsters in the 1930s to the application of today’s social media.

The symposium is part of the center’s New Perspectives on Invention and Innovation series that, since 1995, has explored invention and innovation in various interdisciplinary contexts—from music to space travel to environmental sustainability.

“Political machines play a critical role in our democracy,” said Art Molella, director of the center. “When these technologies work well, they go unnoticed. However, when they fail—hanging chads in 2000 or the Dewey Defeats Truman headline, for example—they constitute key moments in American history.”

The annual, free symposium is open to the public and will engage audiences with tactics typically seen on the campaign trail: interactive, town-hall style question-and-answer sessions, stump speeches and a live audience response system.

Events begin Friday, Nov. 2, at 8 p.m. with a media-rich presentation examining the role and evolution of political advertising. Programming will continue Saturday, Nov. 3, with discussion of campaigning, polling and voting. Speakers will include experts from the Brookings Institution, The Washington Post, Pew Center on the States and the 2004 Dean for America campaign, among others.

Saturday’s events also will include book signings by symposium speakers, as well as an opportunity to view historical campaign materials from the National Museum of American History’s Archives Center.

For more information on the symposium, visit

The Smithsonian Lemelson Center’s activities advance scholarship on the history of invention, share stories about inventors and their work and nurture creativity in young people. The center embodies a philosophy akin to that of the inventions we study, of valuing creativity and embracing the potential rewards of intellectual risk-taking. The center is supported by The Lemelson Foundation, a private philanthropy established by one of the country’s most prolific inventors, Jerome Lemelson, and his family. The Lemelson Center is located in the National Museum of American History. For more information, visit http://invention.smithsonian.org.

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