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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 29

Ballot no Protection. — Vote by Ballot exists in Form

page 44

Ballot no Protection.

Vote by Ballot exists in Form.

But it does not act so as to prevent bribery or intimidation. The proceeding of inscribing the voter's electoral roll number on his voting paper (however necessary it may be for identification in case of a disputed election, and the alleged illegality of the vote on account of personation or other fault), leads the majority of electors to believe that the manner in which they shall vote will not be an absolute secret. They are therefore still accessible to that "inquisitorial" process, by which the wealthy man can attach a condition of extended credit or money pressure to the manner in which the elector, who has anything to hope or fear, shall exercise his vote, and exert himself to influence others. An interview in the bank parlour, or in the wealthy private individual's office or business room, with a timely reference to books, balances, overdrafts, outstanding accounts, and possible credits, still has the power to assure the voter, who is dependent on any personal money question, that his credit will be extended, his draft honoured, or "the screw put on" him, according as the interviewed "free and independent." shall vote. Everyone who carefully observed the features of the last general election, must have been made fully aware how active apart the managers of certain Banks, especially the Bank of New Zealand which has almost a monopoly of Government business, took in promoting the return of candidates favourable to the late Government, and how effectual was their interested interference. "While such things can go on as they do, it is impossible to believe that the form of voting by ballot, existing under the present law, affords a reliable protection against the bribery and intimidation of the poorer or more dishonest, by their superior in wealth or dishonesty. Moreover, while the voting is supposed to be secret, public nominations, canvassing, committees, and shows of hands are still kept up, although the honest use of devices by any candidate or voter takes away the protection of secrecy, which the ballot ought to afford thoroughly, if it is to serve its alleged purpose at all.

My own belief is, that under open voting the elector was really more independent than he is under the so-called ballot as now administered. Many an elector believes that it is the officials and people in power only, who have a possible knowledge of the way in which his vote has been given. Therefore he is subject to the influence of the wealthy and powerful: but he is no longer liable to the dread of disgrace among the men of his own class, or to the recrimination of a defeated candidate, in case he should vote in a manner diametrically opposed to his public and private declarations of opinion, and to the best interests of his fellow-men. Under the ballot, too, that personal confidence, which used to exist between honest member and honest constituents, is virtually at an end. If the ballot be really secret, the professed supporter of a candidate or member may be a person whom it is desirable for him to consult and confide in, or he may be an opponent in disguise, seeking to suck his brains and to beguile him into some unpopular public proceeding or private interference with the independence of other electors. For the honest, conscientious, and unwary candidate or member, it is like entering under your own signature into a newspaper controversy with anonymous antagonists. If the candidate or member wear his political heart on his sleeve, he is at a disadvantage with political antagonists and electioneering agents who use language for concealing their thoughts. Ballot, at its best, frees the elector from all public responsibility to his fellow-citizens for any bad use which he may make of his secret influence over the choice of legislators; while it does away with the benefit of good example and respect for integrity in politics. It gives an undue advantage to the dissembler, over the upright man who is not ashamed of his political actions; and under the pretence of independence for the elector, creates members who, being callous to any personal blame by anonymous voters, may act with unscrupulous and irresponsible servility and corruption. But if, in compliance with the wishes of the majority, we must keep to the Ballot, let us at any rate have it in its integrity! Let every candidate propose himself. Let Election Committees and canvassing be forbidden by law. Let there be no show of hands. Take every precaution against false page 45 votes before voting; but leave no mark whatever on the token of a vote, by which a returning offiicer, scrutineer, or even himself shall be able to identify the voter after he has once dropped the token into the box. Blackballing at a Club or in any other institution, would cease to be anonymous, if every ball had on it a number corresponing with that of the voter on a published list of members.