The Absentee Ballot and the Secret Ballot: Challenges for Election Reform

Reforms in the recently enacted federal election reform legislation primarily address improving voting at a polling place, but there is a growing share of the electorate who vote away from the polling place through increased use of absentee ballots and vote-by-mail systems. Voters who vote away from the polling place do not have the same protections as those at the polling place. In particular, these voters do not have a secret ballot, as any ballot cast without a drawn curtain behind oneself is potentially subject to coercion, vote buying and fraud.

This Article looks at the tension between the Australian Ballot and absentee voting. Both the Australian Ballot and the Absentee Ballot were electoral reforms of previous generations. The Australian Ballot was instituted by almost all of the states in the 1880s and 90s to combat abuses at the ballot box such as vote buying and coercion by party machines. There were two major periods of absentee ballot reform. In both periods of absentee ballot reform, there was recognition of the dangers of casting a ballot away from a home polling place. Since these early periods of adoption of absentee voting laws, there has been a significant rise in voting away from the polling place. In addition, many of the safeguards implemented by early legislation have been repealed. There are a number of advocates for easier absentee balloting, vote by mail, or even voting over the Internet. Although they emphasize the convenience of such measures, these advocates do not seem to appreciate the privacy concerns that the originators of the absentee ballot did. 7b the extent that election reform legislation is to be successful in improving the electoral system, it must take note of the trend toward voting away from the polling place and consider the importance of the secret ballot as well as convenience.