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The Australian ballot: Not the secret ballot

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Australian historical and political science academic accounts of the ‘secret ballot' often describe it as being designed in Australia and first applied in Victoria in 1856. Narratives often focus on Chartists and radicals finding fertile ground in the New World for ideas that had met insurmountable resistance in the Mother Country. But this concentration on the ‘British story' has led to a misconception in this country: that the secret ballot was first tried in Australia. This comes from conflating the ‘Australian ballot' with the ‘secret ballot'. Voting by ballot, in ‘secret'—that is, not by a show of hands, on the voices or signed voting paper—was in use in America and Europe well before being implemented in Australia. This was the secret ballot many demanded for Australia, but they got something else: the Australian ballot, wholly original, with identifying features—such as the government printed ballot paper—previously unimagined. The Australian ballot was not the world's first secret ballot; it was much more important than that.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Australian National University

Publication date: 2006-03-01

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