When the secret ballot is abandoned, so is democracy

Oct 18, 2021 by

by Peter Golds, Conservative Home:

The heading of this article is surely a statement of the obvious. The pseudo elections that took place under Communism were notorious in that those who chose to vote in secret became targets of suspicion and persecution by the authorities.

In 1872, one hundred and forty nine years ago, the Ballot Act was passed to secure the secret ballot. This Act has never been repealed but has been amended. The Act is often known as the Secret Ballot Act. It was introduced to ensure electors could vote without fear of retribution from their employers, landlords, or indeed their families.

Section 2 of the Act is headed “poll at Elections” and describes the process of voting. It states:

“..the voter having secretly marked his vote on the paper, and folded it so as to conceal his vote, shall place it in a closed boxed in the presence of the officer presiding at the polling station.”

This is exactly the process which is expected to be followed today. Note the word secretly.

Section 4 of the Act is headed “Infringement of Secrecy” and commences “Every officer, clerk and agent in attendance at a polling station shall maintain and aid in maintaining the secrecy of voting in such station.” The section provides guidance as to how secrecy should be maintained and concludes with the following criminal sanction. “Every person who acts in contravention of this section shall be liable, on summary conviction before two justices of the peace, to imprisonment for any term not exceeding six months, with or without hard labour.”

This is absolutely explicit and forms, or should form, the bedrock of voting in a democracy.

In recent years, there has been the growth of what is now described as “family voting” in polling stations. It too often involves males supervising women voters in the polling booth. I have previously referred to a report by Democracy Volunteers who are registered with the electoral commission and monitored polling stations in Tower Hamlets during the 2018 local elections. The report is here. It can be seen, under D in Question 9, that the observers record that they witnessed “family voting” in 58 per cent of polling stations that they had attended which came to 19 per cent of these they witnessed voting.

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