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Oz legislation

the strike and the cross

1856 Tasmanian Electoral Act

Talented Mr Boothby

Wakefield and ballot

Monarchs

The Australian Ballot

Secret ballot - not an Australian first
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Australian Dictionary
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Enrolling the People

 

The Development of Modern Electoral Administration
a postgraduate project of the ANU and the Electoral Council of Australia 
funded by a grant from the Australian Research Council.

The “strike-through” and the traceable vote:  two changes to Chapman’s ballot

Extracted from secret ballot paper (see link in left column)

*Update. When introducing the Australian ballot in 1877 for elections to its Legislative Council, WA adopted the SA method of the mark in the square. However, on self-government in 1890 they changed to the crossing out method, it being, according to one Legislative Councillor, 'more in harmony with the practice of other countries'. Those 'other countries' must have been the Australasian ones, viz all the other (now) states except SA, plus NZ, because, as table shows, everyone else in the world who had taken up the Oz ballot had adopted the SA version. WA went back to mark in the square in 1904.

Jurisdiction

Year

Numbered/
traceable?

Strike-through (S) or Mark in square (M)?

Victoria

1856

Yes

S

Tasmania

1856

No

S

South Australia

1858

No

M

New South Wales

1858

No

S

Queensland

1859?

No

S

New Zealand

1870

Yes

S

United Kingdom

1872

Yes

M

Canada

1874

No

M

Western Australia*

1877

No

M*

Belgium

1877

No

M

American states

1888

N

M

Commonwealth of Australia

1902

N

M

This table shows the development of two features of the original Australian Ballot - from Victoria. One of them might be called trivial, while the other had important repercussions for the actual secrecy of the ballot.

The 1856 Victorian ballot quickly spread, first to Tasmania and South Australia. But the copying of the procedure wasn’t completely wholesale; it immediately underwent some changes. Importantly, the Victorian legislation didn’t provide for one hundred percent secrecy in the vote; it made the ballot slips traceable. The electoral official was to “write upon each ballot paper … the number corresponding to the number set opposite to the elector’s name in the electoral roll”[1]. This was to be a safeguard against fraud and ballot-stuffing, a way of tracking wrongdoers. The next state to enact secret ballot legislation, Tasmania , dropped this mechanism, making the ballot totally secret, as it remains (in Australia ) today. South Australia also dropped the numbering/tracing for its first use of the ballot in 1857[2], and after that no other Australian jurisdiction picked it up. Overseas, however, New Zealand and the United Kingdom did adopt it.

In 1858 another change came – this time from South Australia.  It is this innovation that the South Australian historian Fred Johns (see his links on this page, top), saw as a defining feature of the Australian ballot and one of Boothby’s accomplishments. Victoria ’s ballot slips contained, as they do now, a list of the candidates’ names. But unlike usual practice today, Victoria’s legislation (clause 36) stated that the “elector shall in the compartment or ballot room provided for the purpose strike out the names of such candidates as he does not intend to vote for …” Tasmania picked this up, and its 1856 Act (clause 63) instructed that the voter shall “strike through in ink the name or names of such candidate or candidates for whom he does not intend to vote”. And South Australia ’s 1856 legislation (clause 29) similarly dictated that the elector was to “obliterate the name of the Candidate or Candidates for whom he does not intend to vote”

But the 1858 South Australian Act (in clause 31) saw a change; it had the voter “making a cross within the square opposite the name [of] the candidate for whom he intends to vote”.

[Update: An 1861 Select Committee in the Electoral Act found almost universal dissatisfaction with the cross in the square, and it seems everyone, including William Boothby, considered it a mistake, mainly because some electors didn't understand it and it led to a high informal vote. But having scrambled the egg, going back was not considered an option (except by Boothby, who advocated it), and they stuck with it. A couple of elections on it seems voters got used to it.]

[It seems the lead pencil is involved. Even today, in Australia, we mark our ballot slips with lead pencil. Originally ink was used, and one reason for the change to the cross in the square was, it appears, to save ink. Boothby, when recommending a return to the cross out method, said pencils should be used rather than ink.]

This was new, and it came of, course, to be the norm around the world: putting a tick, cross or mark[3] next to the person or party you wish to vote for. For the Australian ballot’s first trip abroad, to New Zealand, the Victorian strike through-method was retained. But after that, in the United Kingdom, Canada, Belgium and various jurisdictions of The United States, the Boothby method was used[4]. Meanwhile, back in the Australian colonies, the Victorian “strike out” method prevailed - including in Queensland and Western Australia [5], both of which adopted the ballot after 1858.  

However, after the six Australian states had federated, and held the first elections for the House of Representatives and Senate in 1901 - conducted by the colonies using their own mechanisms and rules - a committee of the new parliament recommended that “the practice of striking out the names of the candidates on the ballot paper be discontinued [in favour of] a cross within a square printed on the ballot paper after the names of the candidates”[6], which was duly included in the Australian Electoral Act 1902.

Meanwhile, changes to the colonies – then states - electoral systems that involved ballot-slips requiring the voter to number candidates rendered the question moot.[7]

Apart from variations such as these, the Victorian secret ballot procedure was remarkably influential, and was adopted across much of the liberal democratic world.

 

[1] See Appendix B, Clause XXXVIII. The information was kept private, and the public at large was not able to match voters with numbers

[2] South Australian legislation was passed in 1856 but the first election using the secret ballot was in 1857

[3] Or, as Florida made famous in 2000, to punch out a chad.

[4] There were variations, beginning in Belgium , involving party tickets.

[5] The WA situation is a little murky at this stage. Remembering that it didn’t achieve self-government in 1890; there are several references to an 1877 introduction of the secret ballot, with one source (Wigmore, 1889) describing the Boothby method. However, the colony’s 1895 Electoral Act certainly certainly (in clause 74) instructs that voters strike out the names they don’t want.

[6] ‘Report of the Conference Re Federal Elections Bill”, 4 July 1901, Section 27 p6 in Commonwealth Gazette 1901-2 Volume 2 page 203.

[7] Queensland moved to contingent voting in 1892; Tasmania to Hare-Clark in 1896; Victoria and WA to preferential voting in 1911; NSW flirted with proportional representation from 1918 to 1926; South Australia moved to contingent voting in 1928.