Report: Secret Ballot At Risk

A new report from the Electronic Privacy Information Center, articulates some of the risks of losing the the Secret Ballot: Secret Ballot At Risk: Recommendations for Protecting Democracy <Exec Summary> <Report>

We recommend reading the Executive Summary and at least the section of the report covering the history of and the need for the secret ballot, pages 4-9 and the section for your state, e.g. Connecticut pages 54-55.

Our only criticism is that the report does not cover the risks to the secret ballot and democracy posed by photos, most often seen in selfies of voters with the voted ballot taken in the voting booth.  Nor does it cover the risks  to the secret ballot posed by absentee voting.

From the Executive Summary:

The right to cast a secret ballot in a public election is a core value in the United States’ system of self-governance. Secrecy and privacy in elections guard against coercion and are essential to integrity in the electoral process. Secrecy of the ballot is guaranteed in state constitutions and statutes nationwide. However, as states permit the marking and transmitting of marked ballots over the Internet, the right to a secret ballot is eroded and the integrity of our elections is put at risk…

Our findings show that the vast majority of states (44) have constitutional provisions guaranteeing secrecy in voting, while the remaining states have statutory provisions referencing secrecy in voting. Despite that, 32 states allow some voters to transmit their ballots via the Internet which, given the limitations of current technology, eliminates the secrecy of the ballot. Twenty-eight of these states require the voter to sign a waiver of his or her right to a secret ballot. The remainder fail to acknowledge the issue.

From the Report:

The secret ballot reduces the threat of coercion, vote buying and selling, and tampering. For individual voters, it provides the ability to exercise their right to vote without intimidation or retaliation. The secret ballot is a cornerstone of modern democracies. Prior to the adoption of the secret ballot in the United States in the late 19th century, coercion was common place. It was particularly strong in the military…

The establishment of the secret ballot helped prevent that type of coercion in the military. It also changed coercive practices in the workplace. But has our society evolved so much that we no longer need the secret ballot?

The answer is, simply, no. The secret ballot also protects individuals from harassment as a result of their vote. In February 2009, The New York Times reported that “some donors to groups supporting [California’s “Proposition 8” re: same-sex marriage] have received death threats and envelopes containing a powdery white substance, and their businesses have been boycotted.” The Times reported that a website called “eightmaps.com” collected names and ZIP codes of people who donated to the ballot measure and overlaid the data on a map, contributing to the harassment and threats of violence.

Further, employer-employee political coercion is alive and well in the United States. A recent article in The American Prospectdocumented a number of instances of political coercion in the workplace, including:

  • An Ohio coal mining company required its workers to attend
    a Presidential candidate’s rally – and did not pay them for their time.
  • Executives at Georgia-Pacific, a subsidiary of Koch Industries which employs approximately 35,000 people, distributed a flyer and a letter indicating which candidates the firm endorsed. “The letters warned that workers might ‘suffer the consequences’ if the company’s favored candidates were not elected.”

Thanks to the secret ballot, employers cannot lawfully go so far as to “check” on how an employee actually voted. But if ballots were no longer secret, many employees would risk losing their jobs if they voted against the recommendations of management. Our democracy would no longer be free and fair. Our need for privacy protections is just as strong today as it was when the secret ballot was adopted

Connecticut Constitution and statutes:

Constitutional provision re: right to secret ballot Conn. Const. Art. 6 § 5
In all elections of officers of the state, or members of the general assembly, the votes of the  electors shall be by ballot, either written or printed, except that voting machines or other mechanical devices for voting may be used in all elections in the state, under such regulations  as may be prescribed by law. No voting machine or device used at any state or local election  shall be equipped with a straight ticket device. The right of secret voting shall be preserved

”’

Conn. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 9-366
Any person who […]does any act which invades or interferes with the secrecy of the voting
or causes the same to be invaded or interfered with, shall be guilty of a class D felony.

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