Secret ballot

Secret ballot

The secret ballot is a voting method in which a voter's choices in an election or a referendum are anonymous. The key aim is to ensure the voter records a sincere choice by forestalling attempts to influence the voter by intimidation or bribery. The system is one means of achieving the goal of political privacy.

Secret ballots are suitable for many different voting systems. The most basic form may be blank pieces of paper, upon which each voter writes only his or her choice. Without revealing their votes to anyone, the electors place the ballots into a sealed box, which is emptied later for counting.

In the modern world one of the most common forms of the secret ballot involves pre-printed ballot papers with the name of the candidates or questions and respective checkboxes. Provisions are made at the polling place for the voters to record their preferences in secret. The ballots are specifically designed to eliminate bias and to prevent anyone from linking voter to ballot. This system is also known as the Australian ballot, because it originated in Australia during the 1850s. In the United States, it is also known as the Massachusetts ballot since Massachusetts was the first U.S. state to use the secret ballot.



In Ancient Greece, secret ballots were used in several occasions,[1] like ostracism and also to remain hidden from people seeking favors. In Ancient Rome, laws regulating elections were collectively known as Tabellariae Leges, the first of which was introduced in 139 BC (Lex Gabinia).[2] Today the practice of casting secret ballots is so commonplace that most voters would not consider that any other method might be used.


Article 31 of the French Constitution of 1795[3] states that "All elections are to be held by secret ballot". The same goes with the constitution of 1848[4] : voters could hand-write the name of their preferred candidate on their ballot at home (the only condition was to write on a white paper[5]) or receive one in a distribution in the street.[6] The ballot is folded in order to prevent other people from reading its content.[7]

Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte attempted to abolish the secret ballot for the 1851 plebiscite with an electoral decree requesting electors to write down "yes" or "no" (in French: "oui" or "non") under the eyes of everyone. But he faced a strong opposition and finally changed his mind, allowing secret ballot to take place.[8]

According to the official web site of the Assemblee nationale (the lower house of the French parliament), the voting booth was permanently adopted only in 1913.[9]

United Kingdom

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

The demand for a secret ballot was one of the six points of Chartism.[10] The British parliament of the time refused to even consider the Chartist demands but it is notable that Lord Macaulay, in his speech of 1842, while rejecting Chartism's six points as a whole, admitted that the secret ballot was one of the two points he could support.

The secret ballot was eventually introduced in the Ballot Act 1872, substantially reducing the cost of campaigning, and was first used on 15 August 1872 to re-elect Hugh Childers as MP for Pontefract in a ministerial by-election following his appointment as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. The original ballot box, sealed in wax with a liquorice stamp, is held at Pontefract museum.[11] The use of numbered ballots has removed the secret ballot in theory, although it has little effect in practice.


Chartist ideas influenced the miners of Eureka Stockade in 1854 in Victoria where they adopted all of Chartism's six points including the secret ballot. Secret balloting appears to have been first implemented in the former Australian colony (now a state) of Tasmania on February 7, 1856. Until the original Tasmanian Electoral Act of 1856 was 're-discovered' recently, credit for the first implementation of the secret ballot often went to the colonies of Victoria and South Australia.[12] Victoria enacted legislation for secret ballots on March 19, 1856, and South Australian Electoral Commissioner William Boothby generally gets credit for creating the system finally enacted into law in South Australia on April 2 of that same year (a fortnight later).

United States

New York polling place circa 1900, showing voting booths on the left.

In the United States the practice became known as the "Australian ballot", defined as having four parts:[13]

  1. an official ballot being printed at public expense,
  2. on which the names of the nominated candidates of all parties and all proposals appear,
  3. being distributed only at the polling place and
  4. being marked in secret.

In the United States, most states had moved to secret ballots soon after the presidential election of 1884. However, Kentucky was the last state to do so in 1891, when it quit using an oral ballot. Therefore, the first President of the United States elected completely under the Australian ballot was president Grover Cleveland in 1892.

The first city to start using Australian ballot in the United States was Louisville, Kentucky. However, the first state to adopt Australian ballot was Massachusetts.

Elections in the United States are mostly held by secret ballot,[14] although some states use mail ballots instead, which violate two of the four requirements of the "Australian ballot".[15] The Constitution for the State of West Virginia still allows voters to cast "open ballots".[16]

Disabled persons

ISG TopVoter, a voting machine which assures secret ballot for voters with disabilities.

Ballot design and polling place architecture often denies disabled persons the possibility to cast a vote in secret. In many democracies disabled persons vote by appointing another person who fills the ballot in their name. This arrangement, however, does not assure secrecy of the ballot for the disabled persons.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which entered into force in 2008 assures secret ballot for disabled voters. Article 29 of the Convention requires that all Contracting States protect "the right of persons with disabilities to vote by secret ballot in elections and public referendums". According to this provision, each Contracting State should provide for voting equipment which would enable disabled voters to vote independently and secretly. Some democracies, e.g. the United States, the Netherlands, Slovenia, Albania or India allow disabled voters to use electronic voting machines. In others, among them Azerbaijan, Canada, Ghana, the United Kingdom, and most African and Asian countries, visually impaired voters can use ballots in Braille or paper ballot templates. Article 29 also requires that Contracting States ensure "that voting procedures, facilities and materials are appropriate, accessible and easy to understand and use." In some democracies, e.g. The United Kingdom, Sweden and the United States, all the polling places already are fully accessible for disabled voters.

Secrecy vs. reliability

The United Kingdom secret ballot arrangements are sometimes criticised because it is possible to link a ballot paper to the voter who cast it. Each ballot paper is individually numbered and each elector also 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 means, of course, that the secrecy of the ballot is not guaranteed, if anyone can gain access to the counterfoils, which are locked away securely before the ballot boxes are opened at the count. Polling station officials colluding with election scrutineers may therefore determine how individual electors have voted.

This measure is thought to be 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 permissible only if an Election Court requires it, and this is an extremely unlikely occurrence. The legal authority for this system is set out in the Parliamentary Elections Rules in Schedule 1 of the Representation of the People Act 1983.[17]

In the United States, sometimes the number on the ballot is printed on a perforated stub which is torn off and placed on a ring (like a shower curtain ring) before the ballot is cast into the ballot box. The stubs prove that an elector has voted and ensure he can only vote once, but the ballots themselves are anonymous. At the end of voting day, the number of ballots inside the box should match the number of stubs on the ring, certifying that every ballot was cast by a registered elector, and that none of them were lost or fabricated.

Chronology of introduction

Date Country Notes
1795 (August 22) France
1849 Netherlands
1853 Colombia
1856 (February 7) Australia (Tasmania) The other Australian states of Victoria (March 19, 1856), South Australia (April 2, 1856), New South Wales (1858), Queensland (1859), and Western Australia (1877) followed.
1861 Italy
1861 Ecuador
1866 Sweden Voter chooses party-specific ballot in the open, limiting the secrecy.
1870 New Zealand
1872 United Kingdom In the UK this was passed by the Ballot Act 1872, but is no longer the case by virtue of Schedule 1 of the Representation of the People Act 1983, as mentioned above.
1872 Switzerland
1874 Canada
1877 Belgium
1885 Norway
1891 United States of America Massachusetts was the first state to hold a secret ballot, in 1888, and Kentucky was the last to do so, in 1891.
1901 Denmark In connection with The Shift of Government (Danish: Systemskiftet)[18]
1907 Austria
1907 Finland
1912 Argentina
1918 Uruguay
1919 Romania
1925 Costa Rica
1931 Peru
1932 Brazil
1946 Venezuela
1950 Turkey
1950 El Salvador


  1. ^ Saalfeld, Thomas. 1995. On Dogs and Whips: Recorded Votes. In: Herbert Döring. Parliaments and Majority Rule in Western Europe. New York : St. Martin's Press, 1995. Page 531
  2. ^ Tabellariae Leges. William Smith, D.C.L., LL.D.: A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray, London, 1875.
  3. ^ Wikisource-logo.svg Full text of the French Constitution of 1795 on Wikisource (French)
  4. ^ Article 24. — Le suffrage est direct et universel. Le scrutin est secret. s:fr:Constitution du 4 novembre 1848
  5. ^ Pour être recevable, chaque vote doit être inscrit sur un papier blanc : fr:Élection présidentielle française de 1848
  6. ^ See the picture captioned Distribution des bulletins d'élections dans les rues. L'Illustration du 23 septembre 1848 on Assemblée Nationale website
  7. ^ fr:Isoloir
  8. ^ Karl Marx The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon : For the bourgeois and the shopkeeper had learned that in one of his decrees of December 2 Bonaparte had abolished the secret ballot and had ordered them to put a “yes” or “no” after their names on the official registers. The resistance of December 4 intimidated Bonaparte. During the night he had placards posted on all the street corners of Paris announcing the restoration of the secret ballot. Full text (chapter VII)
  9. ^ [1]
  10. ^ 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." [2]
  11. ^ Pontefract's secret ballot box, 1872.
  12. ^ Terry Newman, Tasmania and the Secret BallotPDF (144 KiB) (2003), 49(1) Aust J Pol & Hist 93, accessed February 27, 2006
  13. ^ See page 59 of: Webster's Seventh New Colligiate Dictionary. Springfield, Massachusetts: G&C Merriam Company. 1967. 
  14. ^ The party nominating caucuses in some U.S. states (most significantly the leadoff Presidential nominating state of Iowa) still require an open casting of ballots.
  15. ^
  16. ^ See W. Va. Const. Art. IV, §2, "In all elections by the people, the mode of voting shall be by ballot; but the voter shall be left free to vote by either open, sealed or secret ballot, as he may elect.".
  17. ^ Factsheet: Ballot secrecyPDF (48 KiB) (2006), Electoral Commission of the United Kingdom
  18. ^ Elklit, Jørgen (1988). Fra åben til hemmelig afstemning. Århus, Denmark: Politica. pp. 299 ff. 

See also

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Игры ⚽ Поможем написать курсовую

Look at other dictionaries:

  • secret ballot — n [U and C] a way of voting in which people write their choices on a piece of paper in secret, or an act of voting in this way by secret ballot ▪ The chairman was elected by secret ballot. in a secret ballot ▪ votes cast in a secret ballot …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • secret ballot — In the context of corporate governance, this is also known as confidential voting. An independent third party or employees sworn to secrecy are used to count proxy votes, and the management usually agrees not to look at individual proxy cards.… …   Financial and business terms

  • Secret Ballot (film) — Infobox Film name = Secret Ballot image size = 180px caption = DVD cover director = Babak Payami producer = Marco Müller writer = Babak Payami narrator = starring = Nassim Abdi Cyrus Abidi music = Michael Galasso cinematography = Farzad Jadat… …   Wikipedia

  • secret ballot — noun The voting system involving ballots available only at official polling places, prepared at public expense, containing the names of all candidates, and marked in secret at the polling places. Syn: Australian ballot …   Wiktionary

  • secret ballot — noun a vote in which each person s choice is secret but the totaled votes are public • Hypernyms: ↑vote, ↑ballot, ↑voting, ↑balloting …   Useful english dictionary

  • secret ballot — noun Date: 1917 Australian ballot …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • secret ballot — 1. a vote in which the confidentiality of how one votes is safeguarded. 2. See Australian ballot. [1910 15] * * * …   Universalium

  • secret ballot — /sikrət ˈbælət/ (say seekruht baluht) noun a method of voting by means of printed or written ballots, or by means of voting machines, in which safeguards against personal identification of ballot papers are provided …  

  • secret ballot — /ˌsi:krət bælət/ noun an election where the voters vote in secret …   Dictionary of banking and finance

  • secret ballot — A method of election essential to the preservation of the integrity of the election. A secret method of voting at an election. Johnson v Clark (DC Tex) 25 F Supp 285 …   Ballentine's law dictionary

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”