Secrecy vs. Anonymity of ballots

Recently we discussed the distinction between integrity and confidence. From Aspen we have a discussion of the value of anonymous ballots and the meaning of the secret ballot. What voting free from coercion requires is the secret casting of ballots and the ongoing safeguarding of those ballots along with the anonymity of the voter associated with each ballot <read>

Before 1947, Col­orado bal­lots were marked with unique num­bers and were not anony­mous. Vot­ers might mark their bal­lots in secrecy, but their votes were trace­able through delib­er­ate num­ber­ing. A 1947 con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment out­lawed any marks on bal­lots that make them trace­able. This rev­o­lu­tion­ary change facil­i­tated effec­tive pri­vacy of Col­oradans’ vot­ing process and is the foun­da­tion of our civil right to expect our votes to remain secret. This vot­ing method — some­times referred to as the “secret bal­lot” — iron­i­cally does not allow for secrets on ballots.

How­ever, oppo­nents of elec­tion trans­parency talk end­lessly about “secret bal­lots.” Hate to tell you, there’s no such thing. “Secret bal­lots” have no place, indeed no mean­ing, in our elec­tion law. Vot­ers are enti­tled to pri­vacy while vot­ing and a sys­tem designed to pre­vent trac­ing a bal­lot to a voter. These safe­guards ensure NO ONE learns how any­one else voted. They ensure what every­one wants: Nobody knows how I voted.

We agree with the writers. When lawmakers use the word secret ballot we believe the actual intent is that the identity of the voter should always remain secret, which is equivalent to anonymous ballot, not that ballots remain secret. In fact, in order to perform publicly observable audits, recounts, racanvasses, or to make ballots public requires that they not be secret. In fact, if non-transparent audits, recounts, or recanvasses or any official review of ballots is allowed then ballots would not be secret – they would be available for officials to inspect but kept from the voters.

In the Connecticut Constitution we have, in Article 6 Section 5:

The right of secret voting shall be preserved.

Obviously consistent with anonymous ballots, rather than preserving ballots in secret.

Update: 04/17/2012: On to the Colorado Supreme Court <read>


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