Why Ballot Secrecy Still Matters

Issue Date July 2019
Volume 30
Issue 3
Page Numbers 61-75
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Human-rights declarations and various legal instruments state that elections must be conducted by secret ballot, but are silent about precisely what that means. This paper discusses two situations in long-established democracies—the 2018 Swedish general elections and the 2017 Australian “plebisurvey “ on same-sex marriage—in which recognized principles of electoral secrecy were clearly violated. It then identifies the main objectives of ballot secrecy (protecting the privacy of personal political beliefs, discouraging coercion, and preventing vote-buying) and the main measures needed to ensure them. Finally, it concludes that “secrecy” cannot be measured on a unidimensional scale.

About the Authors

Jørgen Elklit

Jørgen Elklit is professor of political science at Aarhus University, Denmark. He has worked as a consultant on election and democratization issues in Africa, Asia, and Europe. He was a member of South Africa’s 1994 Independent Electoral Commission and Secretary to Kenya’s 2008 Commission of Inquiry.

View all work by Jørgen Elklit

Michael Maley

Michael Maley had a thirty-year career at the Australian Electoral Commission, retiring as Special Adviser, Electoral Reform and International Services. He has also worked as a consultant to the UN, IFES, International IDEA, and the Commonwealth Secretariat.

View all work by Michael Maley