Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States

Edited by: Lalor, John J.
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New York: Maynard, Merrill, and Co.
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Includes articles by Frédéric Bastiat, Gustave de Molinari, Henry George, J. B. Say, Francis A. Walker, and more.
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BALLOT, from the Greek , to cast or throw, a method of voting designed to secure secrecy, as distinguished from the open or viva voce vote. The ballot is as old as the fifth century, B.C., when it was used in Athens, and we know not how much older. The Greek dicasts, or judges, voted by ballot in giving their verdicts, using either sea-shells, or beans, or balls of metal, or stone, colored black for condemnation, or white for acquittal. In the Athenian assemblies, the common voting was by show of hands, but in all cases of privilege the voting was secret, and this was practiced even in the senate in cases of ostracism.


—In Rome the people in their assemblies (comitia) voted at first by open response, but the custom of voting at elections by tablets, with the names of the candidates written on them, came into vogue B.C. 139, by the lex Gabinia tabellaria. The votes were thrown into a chest, watched by rogatores or inspectors, who collected the tablets and gave them to the diribitores, who classified and counted the votes, and then handed them over to the custodes, who finally checked them off by points marked on a tablet. In the comitia tributa, when the people voted upon laws after discussion, the assembly was called by a plebiscitum, and the vote taken by tribes. In elections, if two candidates had the same number of ballots, the decision was made between them by drawing lots.


—In Great Britain, which has the honor of originating trial by jury, voting by ballot never became established at elections until 1872. It was suggested in political tracts two centuries before, and secret voting was actually employed in the parliament of Scotland in cases of ostracism. In corporate bodies, both private and municipal, election by ballot has long prevailed. In deliberative and legislative bodies, the reason for the ballot is not apparent, as it is in popular elections. The voting should be open in parliamentary bodies, to enforce responsibility, and bring the acts of their representatives before each constituency in the clearest manner. In popular elections, on the other hand, where the voter represents no delegated powers but is supposed to vote his own will, the secret ballot is a guarantee of personal independence.


—The first prominent agitation of the ballot in England came about in the struggle for parliamentary reform, the purification of elections, and the extension of the suffrage, in the first quarter of the present century. O'Connell brought in a bill for secret voting in 1830, and the first draft of Lord John Russell's reform bill provided for the ballot, though it was left out later. This method of voting was supported in parliament by the historians Grote and Macaulay, and made steady progress, in spite of the ridicule of Sydney Smith and other literary wits, likening the ballot-box to a mouse-trap for catching the votes of Englishmen. Finally, a select committee, with Lord Hartington as chairman, reported in 1870 that corruption, treating and intimidation by priests and landlords, prevailed at elections in England and Ireland, and that voting by ballot would tend to promote peaceful and fair elections, and protect voters from undue influence, provided secrecy were made inviolable by the methods adopted. The ballot was introduced first at Manchester in 1869 as a test, and the voting was found more expeditious than the old viva voce system. In 1872 Mr. Foster's ballot act (35 and 36 Vict. c. 33) made the ballot compulsory in all parliamentary and municipal elections, except for the universities. This act requires the names of all the candidates to be printed on white paper, and the voter must fill up with a cross, X, the blank on the right hand opposite the name he votes for. The register of voters shows when an elector has received a ballot from one of the officers of election, and each ballot is marked with a number, corresponding to 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, if the poll should be scrutinized or challenged. The voter folds the ballot so as to conceal his mark, but to show the stamp to the officer, and it is dropped in a box which is locked and sealed. The elections are held at school-rooms or other public places, and a separate compartment must be provided for every 150 electors. A returning officer counts the ballots, and transmits them, sealed, to the clerk of the crown in chancery; who destroys them at the end of one year. There have been two general parliamentary elections under the ballot act of 1872, and though it has not put an end to bribery or intimidation, they have been diminished, and the steady effect of the secret ballot is observed to be gradually to get rid of undue influence, and the more disreputable methods of canvassing that prevailed under the viva voce system. In Australia, and other British colonies, the ballot generally prevails.


—In France, the secret vote used to be employed in deliberative voting in the chamber of deputies, but its use is now confined to elections by the people. The voting is superintended by a returning officer, four supervisors without salary, and a secretary. Every voter must present a card previously obtained at the registry office, to secure his identity. This the returning officer punches, and the vote is recorded by a "bulletin" printed with a candidate's name. The number of votes given is compared with the register, and ballots are rejected which are illegible, blank, containing the name of the voter, or erroneously filled up.


—In Germany the secret ballot is in use in all elections for the reichstag; registered voters only can vote, and ballots must be on white paper, and folded by the elector, and dropped into a closed box.


—In Italy candidates for the chamber of deputies are elected by ballot in public halls, to which only registered or qualified voters are admitted. A stamped piece of blank paper (the official is blue) is issued, on which the voter writes the name of his candidate and hands the folded paper to the presiding officer, who puts it in the box. The same officer oversees the public counting of the votes. It is stated that the ballot has greatly diminished the influence of the clerical power in Italian politics, and canvassing and bribery seldom occur.


—Spain, Belgium, Switzerland and Austria have the ballot, and in Hungary it is compulsory in the election of municipal councils, while it was abolished in parliamentary elections in 1874.


—In the United States, voting by ballot dates from early colonial times, and was made obligatory by the constitutions of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and other states, adopted in 1776. In New York viva voce voting prevailed until 1778, when provision was made for electing a governor and lieutenant governor by ballot, and in 1787 this was extended to the legislature.


—The system of open voting which long prevailed in some of the southern states, has given place to the ballot throughout the Union, with the single exception of the state of Kentucky. In this state the constitution provides that the people shall vote viva voce, though this is controlled as regards congressional elections by the act of congress (Revised Statutes, section 27), which requires all votes for representatives in congress to be by written or printed ballot.


—The constitutions of all the states provide that all elections shall be by ballot, with the above exception. In Alabama, Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee see and Texas, there is a constitutional provision requiring the legislature to vote viva voce. In other states it is left to the legislature to regulate its own method of suffrage. Arkansas and Colorado have a constitutional requirement that at every election the ballots shall be numbered in the order in which they are received, and the number recorded by the election officers, on the list of voters opposite the name of the voter who presents the ballot. The election officers are to be sworn not to inquire or disclose how any elector shall have voted. Similar safeguards against "repeating," or fraudulent voting, are provided by law in many states where there is no constitutional provision on the subject. Too many of the states, however, are without efficient registration laws, and a neglect to provide proper legal safeguards for free and honest suffrage is one of the most serious evils which threaten the safety and permanence of republican institutions. All kinds of frauds and deceptions are practiced or attempted with the ballot, such as: 1, counterfeiting the real ballot, and substituting some insidious change of name of an important candidate; 2, heading printed ballots with the name and device of one party, and printing under it the names of the candidates of the opposite party; 3, "stuffing" the ballot box, or voting two or more ballot papers folded so as to appear as one; 4, using "tissue ballots," or votes printed on thin tissue paper so as to conceal a large number of surplus or fraudulent votes, smuggled into the boxes without detection; 5, "repeating," or voting by the same man at several different polls; 6, "personation," or another kind of double voting, by the same man using a different name, at the same poll.


—As a safeguard against some of these practices, many ingenious methods have been proposed and experimented upon. A mechanical ballot box, with automatic devices preventing any voter from casting more than one ballot, or at least preventing the count of more than one to each voter, has been invented. This box gives an alarm as each vote is received, secures strict secrecy to the voter, counts and files each ballot on a wire in the box, beyond the reach of any hand, and shows the aggregate vote, with which the official vote must agree. It is claimed to be equally efficient against false counting, tabulating, or returning, as against fraudulent voting.


—Ballot boxes have been used of many different materials, from the primitive hat or cigar box, to the voting urn, glass ballot box, and the elaborate mechanical repositories of votes above referred to. Frauds upon the ballot box should be ranked among the worst of crimes against republican government. The secrecy and the sacredness of the ballot should be maintained at whatever cost. The more free the people, the more carefully will the secret ballot be guarded, as the best guarantee of personal independence.


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