Open and Secret Voting

Wednesday, 11th March 2009 at 9:00 UTC 1 comment

These days Facebook status’s abound during Union election time stating which way people voted. Someone commented on a friend’s status, in which he’d declared 4 of his votes, that she wondered where private voting had gone to. I slightly snapped back, which wasn’t necessary, but it got me thinking about the potential complexities of this issue.First, I should say that I completely support people’s right to keep their votes secret. I have no right to know which way you voted, or indeed whether you voted at all (though I’d prefer it if people were open about this latter point). But I do think that it is generally a good thing when people feel they can make their views clear.

First, if people can make their views clear either way on a ballot, it implies that the election is happening on a friendly enough level. It also raises the profile of the elections; local council elections are so easily forgotten simply because they are often all but invisible.

And bringing opinions into the open can help people make up their minds. A healthy debate involves people expressing opinions and a silent ballot could actually do more to help the oppressor than the oppressed. By telling people why I’m voting one way or another I can encourage them to challenge their own position on a candidate, even without needing them to tell me why or which way.

One of the problems with elections in modern society is that all too often they have become a series of monologues and alienated debates: people standing on platforms telling a crowd what they should think, or debates on TV with tiny live audiences that put a wide margin between viewer and debate participant.

Its not that I think elections are a great way of doing things, especially not those that rely on creating a false-majority in our minds. But in terms of making elections a little more participatory, some level of open debate does seem necessary. Perhaps this is where the Obama campaign was most radical; it really did make people feel much more part of the campaign.

I worry for Britain, as Labour and Tories alike seem to be relying more and more on professional campaigners. It just seems to be creating a mindset in which ordinary people are no longer part of the spectacle. Opening the debate in ordinary places and between ordinary people seems so very desperately needed in Britain.

What do other people think? I’d be interested to know who would defend a silent vote!


Entry filed under: democracy, Elections, Participation, Party Politics, Politics.

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Matthew  |  Wednesday, 1st April 2009 at 13:53 UTC

    The trouble with attempts to involve people in debate is that often they just aren’t interested. In York’s SU elections, all candidates had facebook groups with walls and discussion boards. But how many debates did you see taking place on them?

    Oddly, people seem more interested to actively participate and debate when there is a single issue thing going on, like a UGM. Come election time, people seem to want to hear what candidates have to say, quietly weigh them up in their heads (based on god knows what criteria) and let their votes do the talking. In private, they’re often happy to slate candidates and their policies, but then don’t start a public discussion about them. I talked to one or two people in private who said “A fruit and veg stall on campus? That’s a crap idea.” But they weren’t about to create placards saying as much.


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