Unit 4: The Victorian electoral system Topic
THE SECRET BALLOT A WORLD FIRST
Victoria – one of the world’s first modern democracies
election. Since polling took place over several
Imagine attempting to vote in an election where
keep candidates up to date on their progress,
the vote is restricted to men of property and
and for losing candidates to stop people voting
where your name is written on the ballot paper so
for candidates that were ahead. Open voting also
that anyone can see how you voted.
made it easy for pressure to be applied to
Few people realise that Victoria can lay claim to having one of the world’s first truly democratic electoral systems – it was in Victoria that the secret ballot – the basic tool of democracy – was invented and first used.
weeks it was common practice for scrutineers to
traders, employees and tenants. There were reported cases of tenants being evicted because of how they voted. Hotels were often used as venues to receive nominations and as voting centres. Voting in the hotels took place accompanied by lots of drinking
Abusing the system
and riotous behaviour, and it is not surprising that
Elections in the first half of the nineteenth century
throughout the 1850s and 60s the majority of
were conducted using a practice adopted from
members elected to the Melbourne City
Britain known as ‘open voting’. This was a system
Council were either publicans or ex-publicans.
‘polling agents’ who presented a card to each elector with their roll number and a space for the candidate’s name to be printed by the elector. To cast a vote, electors wrote their own name and address on the ballot paper and placed it on a table face up in piles sorted by candidate. This led to widespread abuse of the system, where an atmosphere of violence and intimidation were often characteristics of an
Unit 4: The Victorian electoral system
5 The secret ballot
slatternly housewives, and cajoling partial fathers’.
Henry Chapman, a London-born barrister who
The secret ballot was widely copied and
had successfully defended the Eureka rebels,
became known throughout the democratic world
proposed the idea of the secret ballot, which was
as the ‘Victorian Ballot’. It was quickly adopted in
eventually enacted into law by the Victorian
South Australia (1858), Tasmania (1858), New
Parliament on 19 March 1856.
South Wales (1859), Queensland (1859), New
Although the Colonial Secretary opposed the secret ballot, labelling it ‘not only unconstitutional,
Zealand (1870), Britain (1872), Canada (1874) and in parts of the United States from 1888.
but un-British’, local opinion was in favour. It was
For an informative history of the introduction
widely held that the secret ballot would bring
of the secret ballot in Victoria, refer to ‘Making
fairness and order to the electoral process. One
Voting Secret’ by John Hirst. This publication has
commentator optimistically predicted that the
been sent to all Victorian government
secret ballot would ‘relieve candidates from the
secondary schools. It is also available on the
base artifice of kissing squalid children, flattering
VEC website at www.vec.vic.gov.au.
1. Can you think of times at home, school or work where you have been involved in an open vote? 2. How is it different to a secret ballot? 3. What are the advantages and disadvantages of each system? 4. When we vote for our parliamentary representative a secret ballot is used, but once in parliament all votes are open. Explain two reasons why this is so. 5. There are still some people that do not have the right to a secret ballot in Australia, a blind person being one example (a trusted friend or election official must fill out the ballot paper for them). How might this problem be overcome? Can you think of any other examples of people who don’t have access to a secret ballot?
Unit 4: The Victorian electoral system