18 Jul: Making Voting Secret

Before the Ballot Act of 18th July, 1872, the British electorate were expected to declare their preferred candidate publicly at hustings, often under pressure from their employers and landlords, and plied with alcohol supplied by the politicians standing for election, in a process known as ‘soaking’.

Over the years, alternatives had been put forward – including Jeremy Bentham’s concept of 1818, which involved a multitude of secret boxes with viewing windows – before the modern idea of private booths and a ballot box came to the fore. 

In this episode, Arion, Rebecca and OIly explain why many voters saw secret ballots as sneaky and cowardly; explain how Australia beat Britain when it came to instituting voting in secret; and discover the teething problems experienced when Pontefract became the first town to test out the new process…

Further Reading:

• ‘Britain’s first secret ballot’ (BBC News, 2015): https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-leeds-31630588

• ‘Rhodri Marsden’s Interesting Objects: Pontefract’s secret ballot box’ (The Independent, 2015): https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/rhodri-marsden-s-interesting-objects-pontefract-s-secret-ballot-box-a114506.html

• ‘What was the Secret Ballot? | The Ballot Act 1872’ (Royal Holloway University London, 2020):