Defining Moments: Secret ballot


[Narrator] When people
from New York to New Guinea vote in elections, they
have Australia to thank for a reform that
changed democracy itself. [Woman] The democracy sausage. [Narrator] What? [Woman] You know, the
sausage sandwich you buy when you vote. It’s the best thing about elections! Sometimes you even get free onions! [Narrator] A reform that
changed democracy itself, even more than the democracy sausage, with or without free onions. The modern secret ballot. On the 27th of August 1856,
the colony of Victoria unveiled the secret ballot. But before we tell you how
totes amazeballs it was, you need to know about the
British open voting system it replaced. Yes, what is it? [Man] I’m voting. [Narrator] British voters
would gather outdoors and raise a hand when their
candidate’s name was read out. A winner was announced,
and then the losers could spit the dummy and
demand a formal vote. Voters would then write
their candidate’s name on any old piece of paper
and hand it to an official, who’d announce who they’d voted for. As MPs weren’t paid,
candidates were inevitably wealthy landowners. They knew who’d supported them, and knew how to punish those who hadn’t. [Lord] I say, Jones,
you didn’t vote for me. I’m revoking your lease. Get off my land. [Narrator] The unfairness
of British elections went beyond voter intimidation. Women couldn’t vote, nor could men who didn’t own or rent
sufficient property. In 1838, British working-class leaders signed the People’s Charter, which demanded electoral reforms, including the vote for all men. And to ensure voters weren’t pressured by their landlords or bosses, Chartists, as supporters of the Charter became known, called for the secret ballot. The government responded to a
number of Chartist uprisings by imprisoning the movement’s leaders, with dozens sent to Australia as convicts. Australia’s first elections were held in New South Wales in 1843. Australian elections were
commonly held in pubs, with candidates providing
those who voted for them with free drinks and food. [Woman] Sausages? [Narrator] Maybe, who cares? Many of the 1843 races pitted
Catholics against Protestants, and hostility increased
as the free booze flowed and officials posted hourly vote counts. In Sydney, Irish Catholic
supporters of Maurice O’Connell armed themselves with fence palings and demolished William
Wentworth’s campaign tent. Whalers supporting Wentworth attacked the Irish with harpoons. One death was recorded during
the riots that followed. This was democracy Australian style. Governor Gipps reported to London. [Governor] The elections in
general went off very well. [Narrator] Many migrants to
Australia were working class and supported the Chartist agenda. Come the gold rush, Victorian
diggers who paid a mining tax but couldn’t vote demanded
the vote for all men. Some also called for the secret ballot. The Victorian public
swung behind the miners after the 1854 Battle
of the Eureka Stockade. Victorian politician William Nicholson secured support for the
ballot from a narrow majority of his Legislative Council colleagues, with Premier Haines resigning in disgust. Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania all passed secret ballot laws in 1856, with Victoria first to go live with a new voting system
designed by a lawyer for the Eureka rebels, Henry Chapman. Government officials gave
voters a standard form, with candidate names printed
in alphabetical order. Each voter would then
enter a private stall, cross out the names of
candidates they didn’t support, and place their vote in a sealed box. There were no drunken
crowds or hourly updates to inflame tensions. Even the ballot’s former opponents
acknowledged its success. In 1856, South Australia
gave all men the vote in elections for the new
Legislative Assembly. And in 1858, William
Boothby produced a ballot that allowed South Australian
voters to place an X in a box beside their candidate’s name. London’s Times newspaper
thundered that anonymous voting was a vile system for cowards and liars. But in 1872, Britain
adopted Boothby’s brainchild and US states embraced
the Australian ballot, as they called it, from 1888. The Australian ballot is
now used around the globe. [Woman] And the democracy sausage was the icing on the cake. [Narrator] Oh, for goodness sake, stop with the mixed metaphors. [Woman] What have you
got against sausages? And cakes? Why shouldn’t Australians be able to enjoy a sausage and cake every few years? Democracy sausage was the 2016
Australian Word of the Year, even though it’s two words. Democracy sausage. Democracy sausage. Democracy…

About the author

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *