Improve Electoral Integrity: End the Secret Ballot

On November 1, 2006, in General, by Neil Stevens
Improve Electoral Integrity: End the Secret Ballot

An issue that comes up more and more in political circles today is that many Americans doubt the integrity of our electoral process. While mostly this phenomenon is centered on Democrats with elaborate conspiracy theories about a fascist takeover of the USA, it is true that some Republicans glibly accuse Democrats of systematic voter fraud.

For the most part, I ignore these complaints. However I can only ignore this so long, when the number of Republicans making such accusations only seems to increase. Therefore I have meditated on this problem, and have come to what must be the central element of any solution.

If we want to secure the faith of the people in our electoral process, we must end the secret ballot. Instead, we must have a secure ballot, that protects but does not guarantee the privacy of the voter.

Why do we even have the secret ballot? Wikipedia offers an explanation in its article on the Secret Ballot:

A Pennsylvania state legislator long active in election reform issues, Rep. Mark B. Cohen of Philadelphia, said “The secret ballot guarantees that it is one’s private opinion that counts. Open ballots are not truly free for those whose preferences defy the structures of power or friendship.” The Populists, a short-lived American political party during 1870s through 1890s, listed the Australian ballot as one of their party platforms in the Ocala Demands.

So as we can see, we are long past the time in which the secret ballot is even necessary. Cohen lived and worked in a time when politics were rough like nothing we see today. It got dirty, it got violent, and it got far more vicious than it does today. Because in the old days people were relatively ill-informed and educated, but now today most votes can read, write, and watch C-SPAN. Ignorant passions are, incredibly enough in our polarized climate today, tempered by knowledge.

And further, there are more safeguards on government than there ever have been. The same eyes and ears that help keep the people informed, also watch out for impropriety. Politicians and their cronies can be ruined overnight by false accusations, let alone true ones. Voters no longer have anything to fear if their “preferences defy the structures of power or friendship.”

Or even if there are fears, we can even compromise. Instead of having a completely secret ballot, we can have instead a sealed ballot. Let the choices of each voter remain private under ordinary circumstances, only breaking the seal when the government has a legitimate reason to do so.

What would these legitimate reasons be? Just the steps needed to be taken to heighten confidence in our elections. If someone who voted is found to have been already dead, or registered by perjury, or paid off to vote, then there will be nothing to stop us from subtracting those fraudulent votes from the official totals, reversing any results that change by enough. That alone should be reason enough to make this change.

Discovering the choices of the fraudulent voters can do more than bring justice to the outcomes of stolen elections. They can also help point us to the fraud masterminds who might otherwise remain hidden. It is, after all, one thing to find out that 2000 dead people voted in one city. It is another to find out that every single one of them voted the same way. One fact leads to another, and this crucial clue could help catch the ringleaders.

If you mistrust our elections, then join in the call to end the secret ballot. Doesn’t integrity count for more than privacy in our joint civic exercise?


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