William Robinson Boothby (26 September 1829–12 July 1903), was Electoral Commissioner for South Australia, in charge of every parliamentary election from 1856 to 1903.
Boothby was the eldest son of South Australian Supreme Court Justice Benjamin Boothby. William was born at Nottingham, England and emigrated to Australia with his parents during 1853
In 1854 he was appointed as Deputy-Sheriff and its electoral officer for the colony, he was promoted to Sheriff during 1856
He prepared the clauses of the South Australian Act of 1856 that instituted voting by ballot and those of the Act of 1858 that provided for the placing of a cross against the name of the favoured candidate. He based his reform on ballots pre-printed with the candidates names. In a manner similar to that still used widely today, the voter marked the form in secret and placed it in a sealed box. The ballots were collected and counted so that no one could be identified from their voting paper.
This was a significant change from the then used English practice, where elections were conducted "on the voices". Voters assembled at local election centres where they called out the name of their chosen candidate, and the choice was then entered on a register. This public process made the voter vulnerable to both bribery and intimidation, and caused wide concern.
Boothby's system was adopted for use in Federal government elections in Australia. In the second half of the 19th century, the use of the secret ballot spread to the USA and to Europe; in 1892 Grover Cleveland became the first US President elected by Boothby’s system, universally referred to as 'the Australian ballot' for nearly a century.
In 1893 he was created C.M.G.
In his later years he became Comptroller of Prison Labour and a senator of the University of Adelaide in South Australia
He died in Adelaide on 12 July 1903
- G. N. Hawker, 'Boothby, William Robinson (1829-1903)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, Melbourne University Press, 1969, pp 196–197.
- Constitution Act 1856 (SA), National Archives of Australia
- Castles, AC and Harris, MC, 'Lawmakers and Wayward Whigs', Wakefield Press, Adelaide, 1987.
- Jaensch, Dean (ed.), 'The Flinders History of South Australia: Political History', Wakefield Press, Adelaide, 1986.
- Keeley, Rod, 'The Secret Ballot', in Brian Crozer "If We're So Great, Why Aren't We Better? A Critical Look at Six Great South Australian Firsts", South Australia Old Parliament House Museum, Adelaide, 1986.