Private and Public Voting

So here’s a fun thing. At the Iowa Caucuses next week, following the discussion and speeches for candidates, some voters will cast a secret ballot while others will vote publically.

In a caucus setting, with its ideals of community and dialogue, a public vote doesn’t seem too jarring. Yet – it is a little strange. Voting, in this country, is almost synonymous with a private act.

So why the divide in private and public voting at the caucus?

Well, first of all – regardless of how you feel about the ideological differences of the parties – they are in fact different organizations. Each party has their own infrastructure, history, and traditions.

We often forget this as we consider them two halves of the same whole – but the simple truth is that at Republicans have a private caucus ballot while Democrats do not because the parties evolved separately and have different bureaucratic structures.

Interestingly, most voting in the U.S. used to be done publicly – and out loud. Amidst what I can only imagine was great fanfare amongst the old boys’ network, voters would cast their vote by publicly announcing their candidate preference.

Your neighbors knew who you were for and you knew who your neighbors were for. Party pride ran high.

Of course, corruption was also rampant, as – pre-prohibition – voters were often rewarded with alcohol.

The so-called “Australian ballot” – a secret ballot printed at the public’s expense – didn’t become popular until the late 1800s. It was first, adopted, of course, in Massachusetts.

The secret ballot didn’t become universal in the U.S. states until 1892. …and prohibitions against paying people for votes weren’t instituted until 1925.


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