Time to discard the "Australian Ballot"

By Bruce Walker
web posted November 20, 2000

The controversy swirling around Presidential Election 2000 brings home a fundamental problem with our democracy today: Rampant voter fraud. The 1960 Presidential Election, as many have noted, may have been stolen. Two Senators -- Diane Feinstein from California and Mary Landrieu from Louisiana -- probably hold seats in Congress obtained by voter fraud (which given the pending composition of the United States Senate, collectively may be almost as important as the theft of a Presidential Election).

In an age in which "good government" types bemoan the low participation in elections, it is well to recall that very high reported levels of voter participation -- 99 per cent in the Soviet Union or 104 per cent in Boss Daley's Chicago -- did not indicate good citizenship, but rather an unhealthy desire not only for power at any cost, but also for an unnatural yen for some flavor of legitimacy.

Liberals love inflation. Print money, when enough money is already in circulation. Pass laws, when the statute books provide more than enough direction. Litigate, when legal and factual questions at not seriously at issue. Bloat bureaus and departments, when the pace of administration is already glacial. And get out that vote, because more votes means more democracy!

This lust for "more" was sold in electoral politics as the need to insure that everyone could easily register and easily vote. The notion that those rights for which men slowly bled to death at Yorktown, Gettysburg, and Normandy might justify from the subsequent beneficiaries of those sacrifices some measure of effort and thought seems horrific to liberals. The "Blood, toil, sweat, and tears" which Winston Churchill so eloquently described has been condensed, canned, and put on the grocery shelf -- maximum convenience and minimum effort.

Well, real values involve more than that. What, after all, is "the vote"? It is nothing more than a communal protection against wicked governance, and to that extent, it is a duty. We owe each other the duty to protect us all against vain, callow, grasping men. Small battles and little costs indeed, when compared to what President Kennedy, Senator Dole, and President Bush offered for liberty.

Conservatives understand that quality means much more than quantity. A few honest words say more than endless reams of whole cloth. Accurate answers to examination questions mean more than lots of random guesses. Honestly counted votes of twenty percent of the electorate help good government much more than manipulated tallies of eighty percent of the electorate. But what can be done?

Mount RushmoreOne change would end to almost all voter fraud: Abolish the Australian Ballot. Most Americans mistakenly assume that the "secret ballot" is some sort of sacred right or at least enshrined in the Constitution. Nothing could be further from the truth. Ballots cast for President were not generally secret in the United States until 1888. The American Republic, which had democratic governments with open balloting for colonial governments, state governments under the Articles of Confederation, and state and federal offices for almost the first century of the nation. Great and noble leaders -- three of the four faces on Mount Rushmore -- were elected without secret ballots.

Americans adopted the secret ballot because of the fear of voter intimidation by employers. This was during a period in which employees had few, if any, legal rights of redress against unpleasant employers. Is this the case today? Employee rights are enshrined in federal and state laws, union contracts, and myriad other ways. Any employer who discharged an employee for "voting wrong" would face even greater anger from American consumers, about half of whom probably voted the same way as the offended employee.

What about other forms of intimidation might separate voters from their consciences? Voters overwhelmingly seem unafraid from disclosing their political sentiments. The vast majority of voters register as a Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, Green, or Reform party member, even when registration as an independent is an option. Why? People plant yard sides in front of their houses and put bumper stickers on their cars. Turn on any cable news channel and it will be filled with noisily unintimidated talking heads.

The threat to democracy is not from voters intimidated by an honestly elected government, but rather from government unconcerned with voters whose putative authority can be clandestinely fixed. Secrecy does not produce safety, but danger. Consider the greatest savaging of voter rights in American history -- the oppression of black voters in the South. The Ku Klux Klan kept blacks politically powerless for many decades, and the thugs of the "Secret Empire" understood that their hoods frustrated justice.
Beneficial political reforms, like requiring recorded votes for legislators, are uniformly based upon openness. Sleaze comes from "backroom deals" and "bribes." Indeed, even when people are wrong, there is an inherent nobility in public and clear expression of their opinion.

Over time, things hidden rot and things transparent blossom -- that is the magic of the myriad forms of markets, which are predictable only in ultimately rewarding merit. Voters in America today go behind dark curtains and silently cast their ballots, as if they have committed some crime or done something odious. When the vote for a "candidate" (a word whose linguistic roots trace back to our word "candor") becomes something citizens associate with vulgar acts, then the vote itself is sullied.

The secret ballot is a failure. The electoral invention of a nation formed from deported convicts may have helped Australia become a functioning and free democracy, but it never had much value to the American people, who had early, loudly, vigorously, and clearly proclaimed their political views. We do not hide the American flag; we raise it up high. We should not hide our votes as if we were guilty of some crime for how we vote -- there is no honor among thieves -- we should insure that votes are true and valid by making them public once again.

Bruce Walker is a frequent contributor to The Pragmatist and The Common Conservative.

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