Talk:Secret ballot

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This article contains blurry and conflicting information[edit]

While this article provides excellent historical information about the secret ballot, it provides little clarity with respect to who has the legal right to a secret ballot. Four countries are discussed from a historical perspective that could easily lead a casual reader to conclude that the citizens of each of these countries are entitled to a secret ballot when in fact the information contained herein supports only that French citizens and a few select groups within the other countries have that right.

In the third paragraph of the opening, the following statement appears: "In the U.S., voting by secret ballot was universal by 1892". This statement implies that all US elections are by secret ballot; but, within the US section it is contradicted: "Elections in the United States are mostly held by secret ballot". Furthermore, buried in the "Secret vs reliability" section it is stated "....Federal District Judge Christine Arguello, ... denied the existence of a constitutional right to a secret ballot."

I am placing my comments here because my attempt to edit the article to add some clarity was deleted by another contributor; one who has not contributed, but merely deletes other contributions to this article. We all appreciate the open discussion about what constitutes a secret ballot and the different ballot procedures; but, to be truly informative this article should provide concise information regarding who truly uses a secret ballot process and who does not; who has the right to a secret ballot and who does not. The wiki secret ballot page is almost always in the top five search engine hits when listing "secret ballot" within a search. Let's all work together to provide clear, useful and actionable information. — Preceding unsigned comment added by Corsairone (talkcontribs) 00:17, 9 November 2012 (UTC)

earlier comments[edit]

Ah, I figured it out. Removed my previous extraneous comment. Sim 16:55, Aug 2, 2004 (UTC) I would have thought the secret ballot would have been around long before 1850. How about the process of Ostracism in Ancient Greece? This seems to qualify as a secret ballot, but I have no idea if it is the first such example. Ostracism was done by popular vote, with pottery fragments used as ballots. When an ostracism was called, the citizens of Athens would gather in the marketplace and write the name of the man they wanted to ostracise on their ballot, then toss it into a pen. If less than six thousand ballots were cast, there was no ostracism, but if there were enough ballots, then the man whose name appeared most often on the pottery fragments was exiled for a period of ten years (from Ostracism is as follows: The Demos takes a vote before the 8th Prytany, as to whether it seemed best to hold an ostracism. When the response is positive, the Agora is fenced off with barricades; ten entrances were left open, through which they entered according to Phyle and deposited their potsherds, keeping face-down what they had written. (from This is a useful article-just-beyond-a-stub, but misses out on much.

Ostracism was intended to avoid civil war so it figures that they would want a defence against Ostracism.Dejvid 13:48, 9 Jan 2005 (UTC)

OOps! I meant a defence against intimidation.~~

Australian Ballot vs. Secret Ballot[edit]

  • Australian ballot is a type of secret ballot. Therefore, it should not link here and should have its own article.-- 19:50, 7 January 2006 (UTC)
That sounds reasonable. Would you want to take a crack at outlining the difference between a secret ballot and the Australian ballot? As far as I can remember, the australian ballot has the following properties:
  • the ballot is secret (to avoid coercion and vote-selling)
  • the ballot is non-partisan (to avoid any ballot design bias)
  • the ballot is printed by the government (to avoid any party bias)
Is there more than this? -- Joseph Lorenzo Hall 20:54, 7 January 2006 (UTC)

I'm now understanding that the term "australian ballot" is not common outside the US (?). So the more general term "secret ballot" is used. So perhaps the redirect here is fine. But I feel the article needs some editing to include the more general idea of secret ballots. Joebeone's third point is what I know to be an Australian ballot. A corollary is that the candidates or questions must decided in advance (enough advance for the ballots to be printed). But I'm not so sure about his second point, unless I misunderstand. I admit I am no expert and stumbled upon this article while editing another. I'm curious to know if the other forms (electonic, mechanical) are also condidered Australian ballot, or is it just paper?-- 20:41, 8 January 2006 (UTC)

I went ahead and made edits to the introduction.-- 21:12, 8 January 2006 (UTC)

There is a great deal of confusion about the term Australian Ballot, and it does indeed deserve its own entry. Many dictionaries define it as synonymous with secret ballot. Others add the points cited above. Several states use the term in their statutes to indicate a pre-printed secret ballot, emphasizing the distinction with the system being replaced, in which all choices were registered by writing in the candidates' names. Most of the legal uses of the term Australian Ballot originated in the 19th century. Present-day usage of the term, especially outside the United States, refers to the unique voting system in use in Australia, in which voters rank all candidates for a given office rather than simply marking the first choice. The idea is that the winner must have an absolute majority. How it works can be illustrated by an example. Say there are four candidates. First all of the first place votes are tallied. If one of the candidates has more than 50% of the votes, that person is elected. If no one has a majority, the last of the four candidates is eliminated. The ballots for the fourth-place finisher are then redistributed to the other three candidaes by the second choices on those ballots. If one of the three remaining candidates then has a majority, that person is elected. If not, the third-place finisher (who may not be the same individual that finished third based only on the first choice ballots) is eliminated. Those ballots are then redistributed between the remaining two candidates according to the second choices of those for whom the newly eliminated candidate was first choice and who did not choose the fourth-place finisher as second choice, or the third choices of those whose first two choices, in either order, were the two candidates who have been eliminated. Now there are just two candidates, and everyone who voted has had the opportunity to register a choice for one or the other, so the person with most votes wins. There are some technical points; for example, the definition of majority changes from one iteration to the next, because not everyone who votes actually ranks all the candidates, in which case they simply drop out when the last candidate they voted for is eliminated. When done by hand, counting ballots can take a long time. However, it is just as easy and fast by computer as it is to count first place choices only and award the election to the candidate with the largest plurality.—Preceding unsigned comment added by (talkcontribs) 04:10, 25 January 2006
You speak of preferential voting, not the Australian ballot. The Australian ballot is the method of secret balloting finalised in South Australia (though begun in Tasmania and Victoria) that became widespread throughout the world, and has since become synonymous with conceptions of secret ballot.--cj | talk 06:08, 25 January 2006 (UTC)
It would be great to get some citations to literature that talk about the differences between the secret ballot and Australian ballot. -- Joseph Lorenzo Hall 03:22, 26 January 2006 (UTC)
"The Austrailian secret ballot is 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." It seems #2 is incompatible with write-in candidates and #3 is incompatible with absentee ballots. So is it even accurate to say the "Australian ballot" is used in the US? Has discussion of these in America been marked with opponents saying "I'm against <write-ins/absentees> and I think we should stick to the Australian ballot"? jnestorius(talk) 07:16, 7 January 2007 (UTC)
That the current system Australia uses for its elections is not the same as the eponymous ballot system seems to cause the confusion. Perhaps a single line explaining this and a link to Australian electoral system would be helpful. 02:58, 21 October 2007 (UTC)

Issues that could use covering[edit]

  1. The impact of technology - The E-voting controversy in the United States is a great example, and one that cuts both ways, becuase of...
  2. Disability and the secret ballot - Speaking from personal experience, this can make very technical issues incredibly emotive. Additionally, this isn't touched on much. (See E-voting. An angle never mentioned is that electronic voting methods allow the blind (for example) their first-ever chance at a truly secret ballot. (Presents methods result in what can best be described as a clown car in the voting booth.) This makes seemingly technical minutiae somewhat life-or-death issues to disabled voters.)
  3. Absentee ballots - Just how secret are they?

I'm sure i'm missing a lot. Those who come by later should feel free to add stuff or comment. -- Penta 12:02, 20 Oct 2004 (UTC)
I think voting by absentee ballot should fall under the more general issue of voting from home. Some places these days allow for mail in ballots and additionally the topic of voting over the internet is one that is coming up more and more these days. I think it goes without saying that none of these methods of voting can be considered secret. amRadioHed (talk) 07:39, 19 May 2008 (UTC)

Facts First![edit]

Facts First! William Nicholson first Caired a meeting in Nov 1851 which was the first Victoria passed the bill for the ballot in November 1855 and it was on March nineteenth 1856 that the regulations for the Samuel Chapman system was adopted By the Victorian egislative Council. Chapmpan's sytem invilved Crossing out the names of unwanted Facts courtesy of the Melbourne Argus 1855,1856. Nicholson was seen as the hero but did we remember his 150th anniversary .. Nah !! I was taught ar school 55 years ago that Gladstone invented the ballor. Facts are important. The gold rush & the ballot were our peaceful revolution for heaven's sake let's celebrate The Gnome of Doon

AKA Richard Casey

Please cite sources. -- Joebeone (Talk) 18:54, 7 May 2006 (UTC)

Australian history[edit]

The origional bit said that it was pioneered in Australia in the early 1850s Pioneered is certainly the wrong word because Chartism is earlier and indeed radicals had demanded the ballot even earlier in Britain. But it could be that there Australian's were independently demanding the secret ballot. Eureka pretty much adopted Chartisms six points word for word but the miners could have been ready for that because it was already in the air. Further Eureka's "success" could hav been due to the fact that they were pushing at an open door. But I'm speculating. Do any of you Australian folk know.Dejvid 13:48, 9 Jan 2005 (UTC)

It had indeed been demanded in Britain by the Chartists (and the Australians copied the same idea), but Victoria was the first state to actually put the secret ballot into official use (it was actually incorporated into the Electoral Act). --bainer 01:11, 6 May 2005 (UTC)

Cleanup needed[edit]

This article is a bit messy and needs cleanup

and perhaps also some mention of "non-voting" views that express what Lysander Spooner famously said, i.e. "a secret ballot makes a secret government" since the alleged "representatives" have no factual evidence with which to prove their claim of legitimately representing as an agent any actual principals... Just a thought, ince "Controversy/Objections" is a common section in Wikipedia articles re. political theory. (talk) 15:45, 21 April 2008 (UTC)

I changed the reference to Canada since it was wrong. In Canada a candidate is entitled to appoint a partisan scrutineer to safeguard his interests at the polling station. I have been a partisan scrutineer several times. - PJC


The article lists Sweden as having introduced secret ballots in 1866. But if I understand correctly (see Elections in Sweden and Swedish official instructions), there are separate ballot papers (valsedlar) available for each party, and one has to pick one fully in the open. Does this system really qualify as "secret ballot"? By picking the ballot for party X one exposes to any bystander that one is going to vote for party X. (There seems to be a way to circumvent it: Genom att ta valsedlar för flera partier kan man undvika att någon får reda på vad man tänker rösta på. I wonder how many people really do this?) -- (talk) 15:15, 3 September 2008 (UTC)

Yes, there are separate ballot papers for each party (to the extent that each party has distributed its ballot papers to the polling place, which may be a problem for minor parties that have not qualified for publicly funded printing and distribution of ballot papers). As you note, by picking a ballot paper from each of the parties a voter can effectively hide which party he/she is going to vote for since which ballot paper is placed within the envelope that is later placed inside the sealed ballot box is still secret. While it is certainly possible that voters may be intimidated if they pick only one party's ballot papers in public, this has to my knowledge not been a major problem, at least not in recent times. It is in my opinion a good idea to include this note, as is done in the current version of the article, since it can be seen as a deviation from the principle of secret ballots. Sarnalios (talk) 21:13, 9 January 2009 (UTC)
Does anyone know when the party-specific ballots were introduced in Sweden? Or were they always so? --Jmk (talk) 09:30, 12 November 2009 (UTC)

Hello. I would like to add that the system is the same in France (I'm French). I feel the current article is biased towards the "Australian system" or whatever, which might be commonplace but certainly not universal. About the secrecy of the French/Swedish system, I agree it's not perfect, if you want to show the people there who you're voting for, you can. On the other hand, it's your choice. Most people will take several papers, but not all (there can be a lot of candidates, even in the presidential election). The fact that the parties make the ballot themselves (there are rules to follow) means that they're usually very easy to recognize, even if you don't know the names of the candidates, or the name of the party, even (in European elections, the parties might have unusual names), or have problems reading. An example : the socialist party ballot will be pink, the UMP party ballot will be blue, the green party ballot will be green. Aesma (talk) 14:20, 4 July 2010 (UTC)

Secrecy vs. reliability[edit]

There were allegations in SpyCatcher that MI5 checked on those voting for extremist (in the 60/70s=communist) parties. But I can't find an online copy of the book to reference. I seem to remember MI5 admitting that ballots had been checked of jurors in a spy trial. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 04:40, 19 November 2009 (UTC)

What's the opposite? Public ballot? Non-secret ballot? Transparent ballot? On-the-record ballot?[edit]

Just curious. E.g., given a limited membership (club, board, etc.), what's it called when everyone must declare which way they are voting, publicly and openly? This article might link to that one. Tks. Benefac (talk) 18:26, 22 August 2011 (UTC)

Answer: open voting (see Robert Dahl, On Democracy, p. 96) — Preceding unsigned comment added by JohnintheBronx (talkcontribs) 20:08, 4 September 2013 (UTC)


The Venetian Republic employed a secret ballot system which was known and admired in the rest of the Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 20:26, 30 November 2011 (UTC)

Secrecy vs. reliability[edit]

The article currently states 'However, there are many opportunities due to lax security for authorities to match ballot papers to voters without Court permission, and there are many accounts of this being done regularly by the authorities in the United Kingdom, especially by the police and Special Branch to identify voters for fringe candidates'.[1] The reference is to a 'Notes and Queries' section in The Guardian.

The first section, by David Northmore, Author of The Freedom Of Information Handbook, London W1, states 'In practice ballot papers are simply bundled-up into paper sacks and transported to a warehouse in Hayes, Middlesex, for the statutory period of one year and one day.' It does not mention that the bundles of ballot papers 'are ... placed in paper sacks with special labels and seals supplied by Her Majesty's Stationery Office'.[2] The first section refers to 'the conspiracy theory that security around the election documents is very lax, and that the vote-tracing procedure has been used to identify people voting for fringe candidates.' In other words, it describes this as a conspiracy theory, as opposed to asserting it as a fact. The first section cites only one allegation of 'authorities [matching] ballot papers to voters without Court permission' - 'In 1981 Gordon Winter - a former agent of BOSS, the South African Secret Service - writing in his book, Inside Boss' The second section is a letter from Michael Wilson, Thame, Oxon., alleging malpractice in the mid-1960s. The third section refers only to published details of proposer, seconder and assentors of the communist candidates. The fourth section states that 'LIBERTY (the National Council for Civil Liberties) ... would welcome information about improper vote-tracing'. The fifth section asks two questions. The sixth section refers to an actual challenge in Richmond-upon-Thames. The seventh section is a letter from A. Dale, Beckenham, England stating 'I am sure that data from all ballots are stored, and the consequent lists are used by political parties when canvassing. I saw them use one such list in a documentary about the BNP.' It is not clear if this correspondent is referring to marked electoral registers, which show whether someone voted, but not how they voted. The eight and ninth sections do not make any specific allegations. The tenth section refers to events in a prison.

I suggest that material which appears in the 'letters' section of a newspaper should not be treated as reliable source in the same way as editorial content is - see Wikipedia:Identifying reliable sources#News organizations. I therefore propose to delete the sentence quoted at the start of this section.

Alekksandr (talk) 16:34, 14 June 2015 (UTC)

Now done.Alekksandr (talk) 21:13, 24 June 2015 (UTC)

When adopted in US[edit]

I have removed the following text, which is more appropriate for the talk page than the article:

An earlier version of this article made the claim that 'Kentucky was the last state to do so in 1891, when it quit using an oral ballot', concluding that '(t)herefore, the first President of the United States elected completely under the Australian ballot was president Grover Cleveland in 1892'. However Richard Winger, editor of Ballot Access News, in private correspondence in September 2015 has stated: "There are 7 states that didn't have government-printed ballots until the 20th century. South Carolina didn't create them until 1950." and in an earlier email authored that same month that: "The (Georgia) law establishing (government) printed ballots passed in 1922.[3]"

Neither a former Wikipedia article nor private correspondence are sufficient as sources for Wikipedia. I replaced the text with Winger's facts without any citation and removed the conclusion about Grover Cleveland being elected under the Australian ballot. If someone takes issue with these facts and no one can come up with proper sources for them, someone should just remove them.

Bryan Henderson (giraffedata) (talk) 21:53, 28 November 2015 (UTC)

Removed: Final Party of Estonia[edit]

Removed the following, as no such party has ever been registered in Estonia. Web search confirms, that three people did publish a manifest under that name and there is a Facebook group called "Viimane Erakond" which 161 have liked.

"Secret ballot has garnered criticism in Estonia. A political party Viimane Erakond (Final Party) has been founded, that claims instituting open ballot as its main goal. They are highly critical of Estonian e-voting solutions in its present form, but stress that this could serve as a convenient and logical platform for open ballot."

-- (talk) 16:25, 29 August 2016 (UTC)


The Secret Ballot and Eureka[edit]

Eureka's leaders did not agitate for the secret ballot. They only adopted the first five points from the Chartist's People s Charter. The sixth point, sectret ballots, was not included in the Ballarat Reform League's Charter.

The first People’s Charter of 1838 [4] listed six demands:

1. A vote for every man over the age of 21

2. No property qualification

3. Annual Parliaments

4. Equal representation (cconstituencies of equal size)

5. Payment of MPs

6. Secret ballots

The Ballarat Reform League Charter of 1854 [5] included only the first five demands from the People’s Charter (PC)

1. A full and fair representation = no. 4 of PC

2. Manhood suffrage = no. 1 of PC 3. No property qualification of Members for the Legislative Council = no. 2 of PC

4. Payment of Members = no 5 of PC

5. Short duration of Parliament = no. 3 of PC (talk) 01:26, 15 May 2017 (UTC)

  1. ^ The Guardian, "What happens to the voting slips used in British elections after they have been counted?"
  2. ^ Robert Blackburn, The Electoral System in Britain, PP 105-6
  3. ^ See 1922 Georgia session laws, chapter 530, p. 100.
  4. ^ "The People’s Charter 1838". The British Library: Learning: History. London Working Men's Association. Retrieved 14 May 2017..  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  5. ^ "Ballarat Reform League Charter". Australian Memory of the World Program. Australian National Commission for UNESCO. Retrieved 8 May 2017.