Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Secret voting wasn’t always the way

The voting booth with a curtain is not an early American icon.

In the earliest post-Revolutionary elections, it was fairly typical for the local sheriff to run the actual voting process: each voter showed up at the local courthouse (or shady tree in town, or whatever), walked up to the table and loudly announced his own name and the names of the candidates he wanted to vote for.

The candidates and their supporters would be standing nearby, cheering or jeering as the votes were declared. Each candidate might have a ready supply of rum and cookies to reward his supporters.
Nothing private about it. For almost 100 years, it was S.O.P. to vote in such a way that your friends and everyone else knew exactly what you were doing.

In the latter part of the 19th century, Australia became the first country to use a printed ballot that could be filled out silently and confidentially by the voter—you could vote without anyone knowing who you voted for.

There was scattered support for this novel election procedure in the United States before Massachusetts became the first state to adopt the so-called “Australian ballot method” in 1888. Most other states followed suit within a few years.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

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