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April 28, 2007


Roger Thornhill

It is an interesting point and in asking it, you indeed expose our lack of liberty. Maybe the issue is how we can fix and repair our liberties so we would be in a positon to vote freely and openly without fear or favour.

I suppose that is why we have representative government - we vote in a person who will openly vote for or against topics. That person, the MP, is far less likely to be pressured...you'd hope.

Given the behaviour of New Labour, though, I would not trust them with my Oyster Card details, let alone my voting prefs.


Another justification is that a secret ballot makes it impossible for people to sell their votes, because they can't prove who they voted for. This seems quite reasonable to me. Selling your vote to someone else is pretty much the worst case of using it without careful consideration.

Marcin Tustin

The evil in being intimidated against voting as you wish is not that the decision is not rational (as it in fact might be, for many values of "rational"), but rather that the individual intimidated has lost their ability to participate fully in the political life of the country.

The justification for using elective democracy - voting for parties - is essentially that it is a collective decision, or that it is a way of compromising between large baskets of preferences. In the first case, the analysis as self/other regarding act is inapt: the point is that there is a collective identity, and a collective is affected. In that form of analysis it is both kinds of act. The second point is not unrelated, and in that case the duty of each person is to express their own preferences as clearly as possibly, and for those elected to then represent a compromise between the interests of all those who voted.

Against this, you have the claim that it is an other-regarding act. Your claim that there is a duty to justify is flawed, because a public register allows individuals to confront individuals, but the foreseeable effects of voting are so widespread that at best it would be inadequate as a means of each holding the other to account, but it would likely also lead to the abuses of the past.

Finally, I'm going to pooh-pooh your ideas about progress: pooh-pooh.


But aren't we free to vote non-secretly? You make your cross and then (could you?) photograph it with your phone and zing it off to your paymaster, mullah, Blairioso or whomever.


What's wrong with somebody voting in their own interest? -

It's not like some other activities where acting would prevent somebody else from acting.

Everybody votes in their own interest, and the winners are those who are seen as acting in the interests of the largest number of individuals.

The secret ballot removes not only intimidation, but also reduces the prospect of bribery. It also removes social pressure of feeling that one should conform to voting how your neighbours vote.

Public voting would be preferable in an illiterate society though.


The Freedom Association would be made up with that.

Mark Holland

Red Robbo (or one of that lot) howling into a megaphone in a car park outside an empty factory: "all those in favour"... "all those against". It'd take a far braver man than I to meekly stick a hand up for the wrong motion?

Phil Edwards

Question 1 doesn't do what it purports to - that is, it supports being *more* worried about other forms of irrational pressure *as well as this one*, not being less worried about this one.

Question 2: yes, it is. But to say that the existence of a certain risk is ethically outrageous isn't to say that it doesn't exist, let alone that safeguards against it should be reduced.

Question 3 has a similar problem to question 1. It's a suggestive point, but you need to go on to show how infringements on the individual liberty represented by the secret ballot might actually be appropriate.

Oh, and could you update your blogroll? I'm now at The Gaping Silence
rather than Actually Existing.


"2. If many people - sufficient to affect an election - are still vulnerable to intimidation, isn't this a terrible indictment, that 130 years have not led to much progess towards individual autonomy?"

How many votes would have been needed to sway the 2000 US election? What fraction of the population is that?

Anyway, saying something would be terrible if true is not proof that is not and never will be true.


No doubt you're influenced by JS Mill's argument: voting is an act of power and like any other should therefore be open to scrutiny.

But the casting of an individual vote in a representative democracy is, I'm sure you'd agree, not a terribly significant exercise of power compared to the various actions that the bureaucracy and businesses take all the time - not just once every five years or so.

I don't think most people would agree that any supposed gains in accountability that abolishing the secret ballot might bring would be worth the risk of corruption that doing so would certainly bring. The great thing about the secret ballot is that it makes bribing (directly - I don't mean manifesto promises) or intimidating voters more or less completely pointless. In contrast, countries where secret voting is supposed to exist but is routinely compromised tend to have elections that are marred with corruption and violence.


You really think it is only in "traditional" families that wives are expected to vote for their husband's choice?

(I remain appalled at the disenfranchisement involved in extending postal voting.)


Totally agree with Shuggy about this. The secret vote is pretty fundamental to the way we do democracy - it's not so long ago when asking who you voted for was a deeply improprer question (then again it's not so long ago that asking what someone earned, or whether they were having an affair, was a deeply improper question).

As the range of data available to interested parties regarding what we've done every minute of our lives continues to grow, please let's not start having to disclose our political beliefs. Politicos will have to work it out from what we display, just like everyone else - green eco-mini, City-SUV or life-size 'Bliar' dartboard (FREE with this week's Mail).

Laban Tall

I'm not sure Chris really believes half the stuff he puts up here ... but it makes for a debate.

"If many people - sufficient to affect an election - are still vulnerable to intimidation, isn't this a terrible indictment, that 130 years have not led to much progess towards individual autonomy?"

No it isn't a terrible indictment, just the way things were and are. Human nature is still pretty much the same as it was 130 years ago or 1300 years ago. Human character doesn't necessarily progress the way an economy or scientific knowledge progresses.

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