1902 Encyclopedia > Ballot


BALLOT, or secret voting, has been employed in political, legislative, and judicial assemblies, and also in the proceedings of private clubs and corporations. At Athens, the dicasts, in giving their verdict, generally used balls of stone (psephi) or of metal (sponduli). Those pierced in the centre, or black in colour, signified condemnation; those unpierced, or white, signified acquittal. The boxes were variously arranged; but generally a brass box received both classes of votes, and a wooden box received the unused balls. In the assembly, cases oiprivUegia, such as ostracism, the naturalisation of foreigners, or the release of state-debtors, were decided by secret voting. The petalism, or voting by words on olive-leaves, practised at Syracuse, may also be mentioned. At Rome the ballot was introduced to the comitia by the Leges Tabellariae, of which the Lex Gabiana (139 B.o.) relates to the election of magistrates, the Lex Cassia (137 B.O.) to judicia populi, and the Lex Papiria (131 B.C.) to the enactment and repeal of laws. The wooden tabellae, placed in the cista, or wicker box, wore marked U. R. (uti rogas) and A. (antiquo) in the case of a proposed law; L. (libero) and D. (damno) in the case of a public trial; in the case of an election, puncta were made opposite the names or initials of the candidates. Tabellae were also used by the Roman judices, who expressed their verdict or judgment by the letters A. (absolvo), Q. (condemno), and N. L. (non liquet).1

In Great Britain the ballot was suggested for use in Parliament by a political tract of the time of Charles II. It was actually used by the Scots Parliament of 1662 in proceeding on the " Billeting Act," a measure proposed by Middleton to secure the ostracism of Lauderdale and other political opponents who were by secret vote declared incapable of public office. The plan followed was this : each member of Parliament wrote, in a disguised hand, on a piece of paper, the names of twelve suspected persons; the billets were put in a bag held by the registrar; the bag was then sealed, and was afterwards opened and its contents ascertained in the Exchequer Chamber, where the billets were immediately burned, and the names of the ostracised concealed on oath. The Billeting Act was repudiated by the king, and the ballot was not again heard of till 1705, when Fletcher of Saltoun, in his measure for a provisional government of Scotland by annual Parliaments in the event of Queen Anne's death, proposed secret voting to protect members from court influence. The gradual emancipation of the British Parliament from the power of the Crown, and the adoption of a strictly representative system of election, have not only destroyed whatever reason may once have existed for the ballot in deliberative Toting, but have rendered it essential that such voting should be open. It was in the agitations for parliamentary reform at the beginning of the 19th century that the demand for the ballot in parliamentary elections was first seriously made. The Benthamites advocated the system in 1817.8 At the Peterloo Massacre (1819) several banners were inscribed with the ballot. O'Connell introduced a bill on the subject in 1830 ; and the original draft of Lord John Russell's Reform Bill, probably on the suggestion of Lords Durham and Duncannon, provided for its introduc-tion. Later on Mr Grote became its chief supporter in the House of Commons; and from 1833 to 1839, in spite of the ridicule cast by Sydney Smith on the " mouse-trap," and on Mr Grote's " dagger-box, in which you stab the card of your favourite candidate with a dagger,"8 the minority for the ballot increased from 106 to 217. In 1838 the ballot was the fourth point of the People's Charter. In the same year the abolition of the land qualification introduced rich commercial candidates to the constituencies. Lord Melbourne's cabinet declared the question open. The cause, upheld by Macaulay, Ward, Hume (in bis resolutions, 1848), and Berkeley, was strengthened by the Report of Lord Hartington's Select Committee (15th March 1870), to the effect that corruption, treating, and intimidation by priests and landlords took place to a large extent at both parliamentary and municipal elections in England and Ireland ; and that the ballot, if adopted, would probably not only promote tranquillity at elections, but protect voters from undue influence, and introduce greater freedom and purity in voting, provided secrecy was made inviolable except in cases where a voter was found guilty of bribery, or where an invalid vote had been given. At Manchester and Stafford in 1869, test ballots had taken place on the Australian principle as practised in Victoria,— the voting card containing the names of all the candidates, printed indifferent colours (for the benefit of illiterate voters), and the voter being directed to score out the names of those he did not support, and then to place the card (covered by an official envelope) in the box. It was found at Manchester that the voting was considerably more rapid, and therefore less expensive, than under the old system; that only 80 cards out of 11,475 were rejected as informal; and that, the representatives of candidates being present to check false statements of identity, and the public outside being debarred from receiving information what voters had voted, the ballot rather decreased the risk of personation. At Manchester the cards were not numbered consecutively, as is done in Victoria, so that (assuming the officials to be free from corruption) no scrutiny could have detected by whom particular votes were given. At Stafford the returning officer stamped each card before giving it to the voter, the die of the stamp having been finished only on the morning of the election. By this means the possibility was excluded of what was known in the colonies as " the Tasmanian Dodge," by which a corrupt voter gave to the returning officer, or placed in the box, a blank non-official ticket, and carried out from the booth his official card, which a corrupt agent then marked for his candidate and gave, so marked, to corrupt voter No. 2 (before he entered the booth), on condition that he also would bring out his official card, and so on ad libitum ; the agent thus obtaining a security for his bribe, unless the corrupt voter chose to disfranchise himself by making further marks on the card.

At the close of 1870 the ballot was employed in the election of members for the London School Board, under the Education Act of that year.

In 1872 MrForster's Ballot Act (35 and 36 Vict. c. 33) introduced the ballot in all parliamentary and municipal elections, except parliamentary elections for universities; and the code of procedure prescribed by the Act was adopted by the Scotch Education Board in the first School Board election (1873), under "The Education (Scotland) Act, 1872." It is impossible here to analyse the Ballot Act, which not only abolishes public nominations of candidates, but deals with the offence of personation and the expenses of elections. As regards the ballot, a white paper is used on which the names of the candidates are printed in alphabetical order, the voter filling up with a X the blank on the right hand opposite the name he votes for. The paper, before being given out, is marked by the presiding officer on both sides with an official stamp, which is kept secret, and cannot be used for a second election within seven years. The paper is marked on the back with the same number as the counterfoil of the paper which remains with the officer. This counterfoil is also marked with the voter's number on the register, so that the vote may be identified on a scrutiny ; and a mark on the register shows that the voter has received a ballot paper. The voter folds up the paper so as to conceal his mark, but to show the stamp to the officer, and deposits it in the box, which is locked and sealed, and so constructed that papers cannot be withdrawn without unlocking it. Papers inadvertently spoiled by the voters may be exchanged, the officer preserving soparately the spoiled papers. II a voter is incapacitated from blindness, or other physical cause, or makes before the officer a declaration of inability to read, or when the poll is on a Saturday declares himself a Jew, the officer causes the paper to be marked as the voter directs, and keeps a record of the transaction. A. voter who claims to vote after another has voted in respect of the same qualification, obtains a (green) paper which is not placed in the box, but preserved apart as a " tendered " paper. He must, however, declare his identity, and that he has not already voted The presiding officer, at the close of the poll, has to account to the returning officer for the papers entrusted to him, the number being made up by—(1) papers in the box, (2) spoiled papers, (3) unused papers, and (4) tendered papers. During the voting (for which schoolrooms and other public rooms are available, and for which a separate compartment must be provided for every 150 electors entitled to vote at a station) agents of candidates are allowed to be present in the polling-station, but they, as well as the officials, are sworn to secrecy as regards who have voted, and for whom; and they are prohibited from interfering with the voter, inducing him to show his vote, or attempting to ascertain the number on the back of the paper. These agents are also present with the returning officer when he counts the papers and the votes, rejecting those papers—(1), which want the official mark on the back; (2), on which votes are given for more candidates than the voter is entitled to vote for; (3), on which anything except the number on the back is marked or written by which the voter can be identified; (4), which are unmarked, or so marked that it is uncertain for whom the vote is given. The counted and rejected papers, and also the " tendered " papers, counterfoils, and marked register (which have uot been opened), are, in parliamentary elections, transmitted by the returning officer to the clerk of the Crown in Chancery in England, or the sheriff-clerk in Scotland, who destroys them at the end of one year, unless otherwise directed by an order of the House of Commons, or of some court having jurisdiction in election petitions. Such petitions either simply dispute the accuracy of the return on the ground of miscounting, or wrongous rejection or wrongous admission of papers, in which case the court examines the counted and rejected papers; or make allegations of corruption, <fec, on which it may be necessary to refer to the marked counterfoils and ascertain how bribed voters have voted. Since the elections of 1874 much discontent has been expressed, because judges have rejected papers with trifling (perhaps accidental) marks other than the X upon them, and because elections have been lost through the failure of the officer to stamp the papers. For this purpose the use has been suggested of a perforating instead of an embossing stamp, while a dark ground paper with white voting-spaces would make misplaced votes im-possible. The Ballot Act has introduced several new offences, such as forging or fraudulently defacing or destroying a paper or the official mark ; supplying a paper without due authority; fraudulently putting into the box a non-official paper; fraudulently taking a paper out of the station without due authority; destroying, taking, opening, or otherwise interfering with a box or packet of papers then in use for election purposes. These offences, and attempts to commit them, are punishable in the case of officers and clerks with imprisonment for two years, with or without hard labour. In other cases the term of imprisonment is six months.

The ballot being thus un fait accompli in the United Kingdom, it is now scarcely necessary to indicate the arguments by which it was supported and opposed It has been found possible to render voting perfectly secret and to provide for a scrutiny. It would be foolish to expect that secret voting will be a perfect security for independent voting. Bribery, treating, and mtimidation continue to be practised, but with diminished effect. Bribery may still be made conditional on the briber's success, but the Act is felt to be an expression of national opinion against all interference with individual judgment The argument that the franchise is a public trust, to the exercise of which a public responsibility should attach, would be conclusive if the " selfish partialities" of the voter were the chief evil. The ballot was declared to lead to universal hypocrisy and deception; and Sydney Smith spoke of " voters, in dominos, going to the poll in sedan-chairs with closely-drawn curtains." The observed effect of a secret ballot is, however, gradually to exterminate undue influence and canvassing ; and when the necessity for secrecy is removed, votes are not kept secret. The alarm of " the Confessional " seems to be unfounded, as a Catholic penitent is not bound to confess his vote, and if he did so, it would be a crime in the confessor to divulge it

The ballot is used very largely in the British Colonies, and on the Continent. In South Australia, under the Australia, Constitution Act of 1856 and the Electoral Act of 1853, both the Legislative Council and the House of Assembly are elected by manhood suffrage under the ballot, the returning officer putting his initials on the voting card, which the voter is directed, under pain of nullity, to fold so that the officer may not see the vote which is indicated by a cross. The cards are destroyed when the poll is announced; and thus personation, though proved against certain voters for the purpose of punishing them, would not void an election, for there can be no scrutiny before the Court of Disputed Returns, Canvassing has almoss disappeared. In Victoria, under tne Electoral Act of 1865 (29 Vict. c. 279), both the Legislative Council and the Legislative Assembly are elected practically by manhood suffrage under the ballot, which was introduced in 1856. The officer adds to his initials a number corresponding to the voter's number on the register, and the cards are pre served till after the time for petitioning the Committee of Elections and Qualifications has expired, so that a scrutiny may take place of challenged votes. The important Road Boards under the Local Government Consolidation Act of 1869 are also elected by ballot. In Tasmania the chiei peculiarity is that (as in South Australia) the card is not put directly by the voter into the box, but handed to the officer who puts it there (this being thought a security against double voting or voting with a non-official card, and also against the voter carrying away his card) ; here also the cards are destroyed immediately, while in New South Wales, where, as in Victoria, the voting is by scoring out and not by a cross, the cards are kept for five years. The vigorous municipal boards of these colonies are aiso elected by ballot, which has diminished expense and undue influence very greatly, but has not produced complete secrecy of voting.

In France, where from 1840 to 1845 the ballot, or France. scrutin, had been used for deliberative voting in the Chamber of Deputies, its use in elections to the Corps Législatif was carefully regulated at the beginning of the Second Empire by the Organic Decree of 2d February 1852. Under this law the votingwas superintended by a bureau consisting of the deputy returning officer (called president of the section), four unpaid assessors selected from the constituency, and a secretary. Each voter presents a polling card, with his designation, date of birth, and signature (to secure identity), which he has previously got at the Mairie. This the president mutilates, and the vote is then recorded by a " bulletin," which is not official, but is generally printed with a candidate's name, and given to the voter by an agent outside, the only conditions being that the bulletin shall be " sur papier blanc, sans signes extérieurs, et préparé en dehors de l'assemblée." The total number of votes given (there being only one member In each electoral district) is checked by reference to " la feuille d'appel et inscription des votants," the law still supposing that each voter is publicly called on to vote. If the voter, when challenged, cannot sign his polling card, he may call a witness to sign for him. The following classes of bulletins are rejected:—" illisibles, blancs, ne contenant pas une désignation suffisante ; sur lesquels les votants se sont fait connaître ; contenant le nom d'une personne n'ayant pas prêté le serment prescrit " (i.e., of a person not nominated). Only the votes pronounced bad by the bureau in presence of representative scrutineers are preserved, in case these should be called for during the " Session pour vérification des Pouvoirs." Practically the French ballot did not afford secrecy, for you might observe what bulletin the voter took from the agent, and follow him up the queue into the polling-place ; but the determined voter might conceal his vote even from the undue influence of Govern-ment by scratching out the printed matter and writing his vote. This was always a good vote, and scrutiny of good votes was impossible. The ballot is still used in the elections to the National Assembly, but in the Assembly itself only in special cases, as, e.g., in the elec-tion of a " rapporteur." Under the law of 10th August 1871, the conseils généraux (departmental councils) are Italy. elected by ballot. In Piedmont the ballot formed part of the free constitutional government introduced by Charles Albert in March 1848 ; it was extended to Italy in 1861. Voting for the Italian Chamber of Deputies takes place under the law of 20th November 1859, and in public halls (not booths), to which admission is gained by showing a certificate of inscription, issued by the mayor to each qualified voter. A stamped blue official paper, with a memorandum of the law printed on the back (bolletino tpiegatd), is then issued to the elector ; on this he writes the name of a candidate (there being equal electoral col-leges), or, in certain exceptional cases, gets a confidential friend to do so, and hands the paper folded up to the president of the bureau, who puts it in the box (urna), and who afterwards presides at the public " squittinio dei wiffragi." No scrutiny is possible ; canvassing and bribery are rare ; and Cavour thought the ballot had quite nullified Greece. the clerical power, at least in Piedmont. Greece is the only European country in which the ball ballot is used. The voting takes place in the churches, each candidate has a box, on which his name is inscribed, one half (white) being also marked "Yes," the other half (black) "No." The voter, his citizenship or right to vote in the eparchy being verified, receives one ball or leaden bullet for each candidate from a wooden bowl, which a clerk carries from box to box The voter stretches his arm down a funnel, and drops the ball into the " Yes " or " No " division. The vote is secret, but there is apparently no check on " Yes " votes being given for all the candidates, and the ball or United bullet is imitable. In the United States a most im-States. perfect ballot system prevails. In many states there is no register, and therefore personation and double voting are practised. Again, there is no official card, but, as in the Shanty system of New York, candidates' touts give out printed and designed cards, which sometimes fraudulently imitate one another in design, so that ignorant voters are misled. Again, the ballot is generally taken in an engine-house, or shed open to the street, so that mob-intimidation may be used, and votes, as in France, are not practically secret In Massachusetts, in 1851-2, the Enow-nothing or Anti-Irish party, anxious to prevent personation, introduced a secret ballot for Btate elections, using the Manchester envelope and an official card, with the names of the candidates printed. This led to fraud and was abandoned, a return being made to the French system.

The history of the ballot in Hungary is remarkable. Before Hungary. 1848 secret voting was unknown there. The electoral law of that year left the regulation of parliamentary elections to the county and town councils, very few of which adopted the ballot. The mode of voting was perhaps the most primitive on record. Each candidate had a large box with his name superscribed, and painted in a distinguishing colour. On entering the room alone the voter received a rod from 4 to 6 feet in length (to prevent concealment of non-official rods on the voter's person), which he placed in the box through a slit in the lid. By the electoral law of 1874, the ballot in parliamentary elections in Hungary is abolished, but is made obligatory in the elections of town and county councils, where votes are given for several persons at once? This voting, however, carried on by party-lists on differently coloured cards is practically open. There is a strong feeling in Hungary that the ballot would be worked by the Catholic clergy through the Con-fessionaL As most of the electors are freeholders, there is little intimidation. In Prussia, Stein, by his Stadteordnung, Germany, or Municipal Corporation Act of 1808, introduced the ballot in the election of the Municipal Assembly (Stack verordneten Versammlung). Under the German Constitu-tion of 1867, and the New Constitution of 1st January 1871, the elections for the Reichstag are conducted by universal suffrage under the ballot in conformity with the Electoral Law of 31st May 1869, which also divided Germany into equal electoral districts.

To secure complete secrecy, and to avoid the possibility Ballot of fraud and the large expense of printing and counting machines, ballot papers, several ballot machines or registers have been invented. In that of Vassie there was an arrangement of confluent funnels, by which the voter was prevented from dropping more than one ball into the box. In that of Chamberlain the number of votes given was indicated by the ringing of a bell In that of Sydserff,8 the ball was placed by the sheriff in the common duct, and the voter, by moving a lever, guided it into a channel leading to the box of a particular candidate. Generally, it may be said that these mechanical contrivances have been attempts to make the ball-system secret and accurate, each voter depositing a ball, and the accumulated balls showing the state of the poll This in a large constituency would become unwieldy, and no permanent record of the poll (except the collocation of the balls) would be obtained. A considerable advance is made in the invention of Mr James Davie, Edinburgh, which we select for detailed description. Of this register an essential part is the wooden chamber (4 feet square by 7 feet in height) which the voter, having received a metal ball from the sheriff, enters by a spring-hinged door to which a lever is attached. On one side of the chamber is a box, on the lid of which stand differently coloured cups, marked each with a number and the name of a candidate. Inside the box is a cylinder traversed lengthwise by a spindle, and having at one end a toothed wheeL By a screw-nut the cylinder revolves on and moves along the spindle. On the cylinder is paper divided into spaces, which correspond with the cups, and above this a sheet of carbonised paper as a printing medium. A pinion connects the cylinder with the door-lever, so that the opening of the door drives round the paper one space. A steel type, suspended on an elastic card, is centred to each cup. The voter having placed the ball in a cup, leaves the chamber by another spring-hinged door, which in opening displaces the bottoms of the cups, and thus causes the ball to drop on the head of the type, beneath which it presses against the recording sheet on the cylinder. The ball immediately rolls down a groove to the sheriff's desk outside the chamber, where it is handed to the next voter, only one ball being used in connection with each register (unless, of course, there are more votes than one to be given). The closing of the exit door restores the bottoms to the cups. This simple and effectual plan has the merit of secrecy, of immediate detection of fraud (e.g., the introduction of a non-official ball to the cup), of rapidity in voting and in counting, and of leaving almost nothing to the voter's presence of mind. The voter can make only one well-defined mark on the paper, and this he can do only in leaving the chamber before the next voter has entered. Mr Davie's invention, which in 1870 received a prize from the Royal Scottish Society of Arts, is obviously not adapted to cumulative voting, but may be worked with any number of candidates under single voting. Although the motion of the cylinder would record in a diagonal direction the series of votes, it would be practically impossible to identify votes from a numbered list of the voters. (w. o. s.)


Parliamentary Papers, 1868-9, R. 352. 352-1. ; and 1870, R. 116

1 In Saxony juries still vote by ballot
1 See the powerful article by James Mill, Westminster Ren., rol. xiii.
* For a description of Mr Grote's card-frame, in which the card was punctured through » hole, and was thus never in the voter's hands, see Spectator, 25th February 1837.

Hungary is now being divided into equal electoral districts.

' On the other hand, by the 2d of the original bye-laws of the Bank of England, it was provided that the ballot should be used in the general courts " in any question rjmrj^ming only one person, matter, OT thing."
3 Letters-Patent, No. 63 of 1869.

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