Secret ballot

From Academic Kids

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The Polling by William Hogarth (1755); Before the secret ballot was introduced voter intimidation was commonplace

The secret ballot is a process in elections where the choice of the voters is kept confidential. The key aim of this process is to ensure the voter records a sincere choice by forestalling attempts to influence the voter by intimidation or bribery. It is also known as the Australian ballot, because it originated in Australia during the 1850s.

The system is one means of achieving the goal of political privacy. Secret ballots are suitable for many different voting systems.

The system provides for pre-printed ballot papers listing the name of each candidate together with a box next to each name for the voter to record his/her voting preference. Provision is made at the voting place for the voter to record his/her preference in secret. These ballot papers are then placed in sealed boxes, later emptied for counting.



Today the practice is so commonplace that most voters would not consider that any other method might be used, yet in the 19th century it was highly controversial.

The demand for a secret ballot was one of the six points of Chartism. In the words of the petition that was published in 1838: "The suffrage, to be exempt from the corruption of the wealthy and the violence of the powerful, must be secret."[[1] (] The parliament of the time refused to even consider the Chartist demands but it is notable that Macaulay in his speech of 1842 while rejecting Chartism's six points as a whole admitted that secret ballot was one of the two points he could support.

Chartist ideas influenced the miners of Eureka Stockade in 1854 in Victoria where the miners adopted all of Chartism's six points including the secret ballot. Secret ballot was first implemented in the former Australian colony, now state of South Australia in the early 1850s. Although the colony of Victoria enacted legislation for secret ballots on March 19 1856, credit is generally given to South Australian Electoral Commissioner William Boothby for creating the system finally enacted into law in South Australia on April 2 of that same year (two weeks later).

In the United States the practice became known by the name "Australian ballot". The first President of the United States elected under the Australian ballot was president Grover Cleveland in 1892. Elections in the United States are now almost always held by secret ballot, with party nominating caucuses in some states--most significantly the leadoff Presidential nominating state of Iowa--requiring an open casting of ballots. A Pennsylvania state legislator long active in election reform issues, Rep. Mark B. Cohen of Philadelphia, said "The secret ballot guarantees that it is one's private opinion that counts. Open ballots are not truly free for those whose preferences defy the structures of power or friendship."

However, another source finds that secret ballot voting was established in 1878 in Canada.

United Kingdom

The UK secret ballot arrangements are sometimes criticised because it is possible to link a ballot paper to the voter that cast it. Each ballot paper is individually numbered and each elector has a number. When an elector is given a ballot paper, their number is noted down on the counterfoil of the ballot paper (which also carries the ballot paper number).

This measure is justified as a security arrangement so that if there was an allegation of fraud, false ballot papers could be identified. The process of matching ballot papers to voters is only permissible if an Elections Court requires it, and this is an extremely unlikely occurrence.

Chronology of Introduction

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