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The secret ballot

f_polling_election_hogarth.jpg

Polling (1754) by William Hogarth. Long lines then, too, even though not all men and no women could vote. Voting is the only reliable poll - unless voters have been pressured or votes have been stolen.

In 1872, PM William Gladstone introduced the secret ballot. Previously men had to mount a platform in full view of their neighbours and announce their choice of candidate to the officer who recorded it in the poll book. Some men were told how to vote. Others were punished when they did not support their employer's candidate.

You know why the secret ballot is important - you want to cast your ballot without intimidation. It's no one's business but your own how you vote.

In the 1840s the Chartists launched their million-man movement for voting rights, including a secret ballot for every voter.

The first secret ballots were introduced in Australia in 1856. In the United States the secret ballot became known as the Australian ballot.

I support secret ballots everywhere. Picture IDs which do not undermine the secret ballot seem like a reasonable idea for registering to vote and for voting.

To step on a plane I have to show a picture ID. To drive I have to carry a picture ID. To cash a check I sometimes have to present a picture ID. It seems fair to require a picture ID when registering to vote and when voting. People who do not fly, drive or cash checks should be helped in obtaining a voter's ID.

A voter's registration and poll appearance can be cross-checked, just as I'm cross-checked when boarding a plane. That may eliminate last-minute voter registrations. But then, it's hard to get on a flight last minute, too.

Why should your vote be stolen by a voter pretending to be someone else and voting more than once?

In August, the congressman, senator and one-time Democratic nominee for the US presidency, George McGovern, wrote about legislation with the Orwellian name the Employee Free Choice Act -

The key provision of EFCA is a change in the mechanism by which unions are formed and recognized. Instead of a private election with a secret ballot overseen by an impartial federal board, union organizers would simply need to gather signatures from more than 50% of the employees in a workplace or bargaining unit, a system known as "card-check." There are many documented cases where workers have been pressured, harassed, tricked and intimidated into signing cards that have led to mandatory payment of dues.

Under EFCA, workers could lose the freedom to express their will in private, the right to make a decision without anyone peering over their shoulder, free from fear of reprisal.

Many Democrats, including Senator Obama, are pushing to do away with the secret ballot in union elections.

We appreciate unions, and salute their struggle to organize. In the 1830s the trade unionists known as the Tolpuddle Martyrs were rescued by thousands of Brits outraged by their treatment.

When they were opposed by employers, unionists depended on the secret ballot to organize.

Why would anyone subvert the secret ballot today?

The Wall Street Journal described voter fraud in the US among Republicans and Democrats. It's a sorry tale. Today Glenn Reynolds discusses other electoral irregularities.

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