What was the Secret Ballot? | The Ballot Act 1872


today we take it for granted that when

we go to the polling station to cast a

vote we get to do so with privacy for

most of the history of British elections

this was not the case

votes were cast in public by show of

hands with all the risk and often the

reality of bribery intimidation and

corruption this entailed so long as the

numbers of voters in constituencies have

been either small or the Whig or Tory

candidates able to abuse the system for

their own ends

this have not troubled many

parliamentarians however when the second

Reform Act of 1867 extended the both to

members of the working class some

worried that these new voters would be

more susceptible to bribery or

intimidation as poorer voters had been

in the old spot and lots and pop wallop

arose prior to 1832 a select committee

was appointed in 1869 and again in 1870

to inquire into the present modes of

conducting parliamentary and municipal

elections in order to provide further

guarantees of their tranquility purity

and freedom the committee's report of

1870 acknowledged that it was

notoriously difficult to establish

precisely when corrupt voting practices

had taken place and how common they were

burt's of election in boroughs it is

certain at least that whether

intimidation is extensively practiced or

not the fear of it's widely prevails

amongst that class of voters liable to

its influence the secret ballot was the

obvious solution but it was not without

its opponents particularly among

landlords and employers used to

influencing how their tenants or

employees voted a ballot bill was first

proposed in 1870 by Edward Leatham and

liberal MP and its first reading in the

Commons on the 14th of February 18 70

consecutive MP Henry little responded

that he had an innate and invincible

hatred to all systems of secret voting

ultimately this bill made no significant

progress and never made it to the Lord's


1871 another attempt was made to

introduce secret voting but this was

defeated by the Lord's the third attempt

in 1872 was finally successful but not

without some controversy Leatham had

suggested that there should be illegal

punishment for any voter who

deliberately displayed his ballot paper

this amendment would have meant not cast

in your boat in secret could lead to

three months in prison this amendment

proved controversial and alienated some

Liberal MPs Henry Fawcett for instance

stated that it was contrary to the

feeling of Englishmen and to the spirit

of the nation that they should treat as

a heinous crime the act of a man who

sought to discharge of public duty

publicly ultimately this amendment was

not included in the final act what was

included though were a number of new

voting offences for those attempting to

interfere with elections opening the

ballot box supplying ballot paper or

taking ballot paper out of the polling

station without juoh thority could

result in up to six months imprisonment

if the guilty person was a returning

officer or clerk at the polling station

they could face two years in prison

finally the Act also included guidance

as to how to vote in secret the voter

having secretly marked his vote on the

paper and folded it up so as to conceal

his vote shall place it in a closed box

in the presence of the officer presiding

at the polling station an act to amend

the law relating to procedure at

parliamentary and municipal elections

otherwise known as the ballot act

received Royal Assent on the 18th of

July 1872