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History of the Secret Ballot (Its impacts were racist, classist and depressed turnout) [View All]

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Land Shark Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Sep-08-10 07:57 PM
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History of the Secret Ballot (Its impacts were racist, classist and depressed turnout)
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Edited on Wed Sep-08-10 08:01 PM by Land Shark
Discussion about the private or secret ballot (if it is discussed at all) centers around the accountability and accuracy of the counts - made more difficult by the secret ballot because the voter can't be contacted to see if their ballot is being correctly interpreted - weighed against the intimidation of voters that is protected against by private ballots.

Historical research finds abundant evidence that the adoption of the secret ballot was a racist, classist tool that suppressed the vote in ways that were both anticipated by political actors and fought bitterly over at the time...

If you think otherwise, feel free to add information to this thread.
The point of the thread is not, at this point in time, to urge elimination of the secret ballot, but in any case we all need to be aware of its effects, historical and present, on our elections.

So, I've summarized some of the historical research on the adoption of the secret ballot below. Title phrases in CAPS below attempt to give a very brief summary of the high point of each study.

THE AUSTRALIAN BALLOT IN AUSTRALIA ITSELF (NOT WHAT THEY BARGAINED FOR): Voting by ballot, in 'secret' (that is, not by a show of hands, on the voices or via signed voting paper) was in use in America and Europe well before being implemented in Australia. This was the secret ballot many demanded for Australia, but what they actually got was something else: the Australian ballot.
The Australian ballot was wholly original, with identifying featuressuch as the government printed ballot paperthat were previously unimagined. The Australian ballot was not the world's first
secret ballot; it was much more important than that. Brent, Peter; Australian Journal of Political Science, Volume 41, Issue 1 March 2006, pages 39 50.

Changes in the electoral law (i.e., the adoption of the secret ballot) changed the incentive structures of the Members of Congress, which induced a change in how committee assignments were made, and maximized the number of individual personal votes so as to create a record of votes, and transformed traditionally ambitious officeholders into single-minded reelection seekers.. (Katz and Sala 1996; Stewart 1992). The secret ballot change in the electoral rules created an incentive for candidates to increase credit claiming and personal vote seeking behaviors, due to the increased ability of voters to reward and sanction political behavior. (Katz and Sala 1996) Katz and Sala (1996) further contend that following the adoption of the secret ballot, legislators became increasingly interested in constituting institutional arrangements so that they could build a personal
reputation that would garner more votes in subsequent elections. Members of Congress began to support the reappointment of incumbents to committees where serving on committees would assist in building a
personal reputation, which would increase re-election chances. Katz, Jonathan, and Brian Sala. 1996. Careerism, Committee Assignments, and the Electoral Connection. APSR 90: 21-33.

ADOPTION OF SECRET BALLOT CAUSES LARGE DROP IN VOTER TURNOUT WITH PREDICTABLE PARTISAN IMPACTS: In states that have been closely studied, adopting the secret ballot divided the major political parties starkly, with major and acrimonious fights between the political parties over every specific variation of voting proposal. These fights were based on considerations like who would be able to read the ballot (many more were illiterate back then) as well as who (if anyone) would be able to assist the illiterate to vote in law and in theory, and more importantly who had the organizational network and thus the ability to take advantage of the right to assist others to
vote whenever the law didnt bar this. Adoption of the secret ballot, in any event, had actual and predictable partisan effects. For example, in Tennessee a law provided that assistance would be limited to any person who could have voted in 1857 before the Civil War and African-American enfranchisement. See Jack Beatty, Age of Betrayal, The Triumph of Money in America, 1865-1890, at pp. 382-83, Random House, 2008. See this link:

SECRET BALLOT CELEBRATED AS VICTORY FOR RACISM BY CONSERVATIVES: In Arkansas in 1892, in the first election in that state in which the secret ballot law was in effect, a Democratic Party campaign song (reflecting literacy assumptions and the literacy requirements of the Australian ballot) went like this:

"The Australian Ballot works like a charm,
It makes them think and scratch,
And when a Negro gets a ballot
He has certainly got his match."

In Maryland in 1901, the law forbade assistance at the polls to anyone, with predictable results in suppressing the Negro vote. See Jack Beatty, Age of Betrayal, The Triumph of Money in America,
pp. 382, Random House, 2008.

MODERN "NO ASSISTANCE" RULES, WHILE ALSO PROMOTING ELECTION INTEGRITY, ALSO AFFECT THE VOTE: I would note that while most of us are wary if not outright opposed to assistance to voters (whether by humans or by computers) except when absolutely required, the election integrity call for no assistance is historically a racist or classist tool to suppress the votes of other races or of less literate people. With increased literacy, this is less true today. The Australian ballot requires not mere literacy, but fluency. --J. Morgan Kousser.

PURPOSE OF THE SECRET BALLOT IN THE SOUTH WAS RACIST VOTE SUPPRESSION: See Kousser, J. Morgan, The Shaping of Southern Politics: Suffrage Restriction and the Establishment of the One-Party South, 1880-1910 (1974), pp. 51-60, 243-46, (largest effect of secret ballot, and its real purpose in the South and perhaps elsewhere, was to disfranchise blacks and poor whites)

SECRET BALLOT SHIFTED LOCUS OF CORRUPTION SOMEWHAT: J. Morgan Kousser & Gary Cox, "Turnout and Rural Corruption: New York as a Test Case," AJPS, 25 (1981), 646-63 (marshaling information showing predominant effect of the secret ballot (in New York State) was shifting bribery from paying people to vote to paying opposite-voters not to vote at all)

SECRET BALLOT GIVES EDGE TO THIRD PARTIES BUT DOESN'T RESULT IN THIRD PARTY ELECTORAL VICTORIES UNDER WINNER TAKE ALL SYSTEM: Before the secret ballot, employers sometimes intimidated their employees on voting choices The secret ballot started in most states in 1889 and 1890, so 1892 was the first presidential election in which it was in force. The Socialist Labor Party, which was Marxist, got on the ballot (in 7 states with its first presidential candidate.). The Prohibition Party also had its best showing ever in a presidential election in 1892.

EFFECT ON VOTER TURNOUT WAS TO SIGNIFICANTLY DEPRESS TURNOUT: See also Jac C. Heckelman, "The effect of the secret ballot on voter turnout rates," Public Choice, vol. 82 no. 1-2, January 1995 107-124.

INCREASES TICKET SPLITTING AND DROP-OFF IN VOTING ON DOWN BALLOT RACES. LEADING TO "INNOVATION" IN THE FORM OF STRAIGHT TICKET VOTING, ETC.: Before the secret ballot, parties printed and distributed ballots at the polling place. In a nutshell, Burnham finds that voters were able to split their ballots and less frequently voted in lower ballot races when the secret ballot was adopted. Rusk points out that some states created the straight ticket option to mitigate this effect, which reduced split ticket voting. Walker noted that the straight ticket option mitigates roll off in partisan races. There is a subsequent extensive literature on split ticket voting and roll off. In 2010, theres litigation about whether or not straight ticket voting options lower turnout in NON-partisan municipal races, even though they increase turnout in lower level partisan races.

Walter Dean Burnham. 1965.The Changing Shape of the American Political Universe. The American Political Science Review 59(1): 7-28.

Jack L. Walker. 1966. Ballot Forms and Voter Fatigue: An Analysis of the Office Block and Party Column Ballots. Midwest Journal of Political Science 10(4): 448-63.

Jerrold G. Rusk. 1970. The Effect of the Australian Ballot Reform on Split Ticket Voting: 1876-1908. The American Political Science Review 64(4): 1220-38.
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