In the face of considerable scepticism from some British commentators, elections by secret ballot and adult suffrage emerged as central features of the end of British rule in Africa. This article considers the trajectories of electoral politics in three territories – Ghana (Gold Coast), Kenya, and Uganda. It shows that in each of these, the ballot box came to provide a point of convergence for the disparate ambitions of nationalist politicians, colonial policy-makers, and a hopeful, restive public: performing order, asserting maturity and equality, and staking a claim to prosperity. Late-colonial elections, we argue, constrained political possibility even as they offered citizenship, presenting the developmentalist state as the only possible future and ensuring substantial continuities from late colonialism to independence. They also established a linkage between nationhood, adulthood, and the ballot that was to have enduring political force. Yet at the same time, they established elections as a space for a local politics of clientelism, and for kinds of claims-making and accountability that were to complicate post-independence projects of nation-building.