by Cliff Slater
We take the secret ballot as so essential to our form of government that many think it is required by the Constitution. Thus it comes as a surprise to most people to find that the secret ballot was not adopted in the U.S. until 1892 — more than a hundred years after the country’s founding.
The secret ballot movement started in Australia in the mid-1800s but was quickly adopted around the world so that voters would be, as the French said, “exempt from the corruption of the wealthy and the violence of the powerful.”
Before this time when voting was not by secret ballot it was not the least unusual for votes to be openly bought and since the buyer could check on how people actually voted they were assured of getting their money’s worth.
We need to ensure that not only are our own ballots secret but also that other citizens’ ballots are kept secret so that we can be assured that they to are “exempt from the corruption of the wealthy and the violence of the powerful.”
Unfortunately, without giving the matter much thought we are drifting away from the secret ballot. We can no longer assure ourselves of the benefit we all enjoy when every voter votes in secret.
While we allow absentee voting in places where the secret ballot can be ensured, we also mail out “absentee” ballots by the thousands with absolutely no assurance that the recipient will vote while “exempt from the corruption of the wealthy and the violence of the powerful.”
We should be alarmed that over 15 percent of the votes cast in the 2008 Hawaii elections were mail-in votes. This is greater than the typical difference in votes cast for the winning and losing candidates. We may already be at the stage where some of Hawaii’s last political races were decided by unsavory influences on “absentee” ballots.
It would be astonishing if no attempt was made to influence these votes by people who have a great deal at stake on who wins elections. When groups like Acorn are involved in the electoral process, mail-in ballots are prone to all manner of influences.
The City Council seat that Barbara Marshall’s untimely death made available was voted on exclusively by mail-in votes. This was a very important race for those with a significant interest in the bed and breakfast and rail transit issues.
Construction unions spent a great deal of money influencing the vote on the rail referendum in November 2008. It would be surprising if absolutely no effort, albeit legal, was made to influence the outcome of this Council race through the mail-in ballot.
Union officials are working hard to rid their unionization activities of the hampering effects of the secret ballot. Under the recently passed Hawaii Card Check legislation, union leaders are now able to go into employees’ homes and ask them to sign a unionization card without any prospect of a subsequent secret election. The union then presents the signed union application cards to the National Labor Relations Board and the company is thereby unionized.
This is a perfect example of people who might sign the card only because have no protection from “the violence of the powerful.”
The amount of sheer fraud, let alone intimidation, from mail-ins in the U.S. may be seen by entering the following in a browser search window ( “mail-in (ballot OR election)” fraud ). The amount of fraud being reported is staggering.
Until such time as we can be assured of voters enjoying the secret ballot such as signing a blank ballot before a qualified official while unaccompanied, we should end the mail-in ballot.
Cliff Slater is a Honolulu transportation expert who serves on the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii board of directors. See more of his columns here: http://www.cliffslater.com/