Geoff Shepard: Coronavirus voting reforms – this sacred principle of free and fair elections is at risk

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The secret ballot, the ability for you and only you to know who you choose to vote for, is one of the surest safeguards to our democracy. But if Democrats have their way, they will corrode our electoral sanctity by claiming it was necessary to combat the coronavirus.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and her Democrat friends are uniformly calling for dramatic expansion of “vote by mail” opportunities in all federal and state elections. This past week, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered postage-paid absentee ballots sent to each of the state’s registered voters. On the surface, these may seem legitimate, but these practices are ripe for exploitation by corrupt actors.

The secret ballot, originally called the “Australian ballot,” came to the United States in the 1890s. There were four characteristics:


  • A single, official ballot that was printed at public expense, 
  • The ballot contained the names of nominated candidates of all qualifying parties, as well as any ballot proposals,  
  • The ballot was made available only at official polling locations,  
  • Ballots were cast in a manner that kept the actual vote secret from everyone but the voter. 

The latter two safeguards have been consistently eroded for decades, yet few have been heard to object.

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This same issue tends to dominate union organizing efforts, which must be held within the guidelines of the Taft Hartley Act of 1947. Unions are eager to embrace “card check” provisions that enable them to personally lobby workers to cast their vote in the presence and under the influence of union organizers. Companies are finding it harder and harder to preserve and assert workers’ right to a secret ballot.

The same is true of our federal and state elections. Decades ago, almost everyone who wanted to vote did so on Election Day and few could meet the stringent requirements for absentee ballots. Such elections were relatively easy to supervise because all ballots were rather easily accounted for.  But the use of the secret ballot cast in person is no longer the universal rule and recently has been allowed to slip further away – usually in the name of voting reform. 

What’s most troubling is that the importance of the long-recognized principle of the secret ballot is rarely discussed when Democrats call for election reforms. But these reforms give rise to new concerns, such as who gets to see the ballot before it’s recorded and what types of pressure have been applied to the voter.

Use of the secret ballot cast in person is no longer the universal rule, and recently has been allowed to slip further away – usually in the name of voting reform.   

Consider these examples to illustrate the overwhelming allure of the secret ballot:

An overbearing father, not particularly thrilled that his son is back living at home – and constantly berating him about political issues. Archie Bunker on steroids. Even under those circumstances, the son can accompany his folks to the polling place, hear all the political pitches while standing in line, and then go into the privacy of the voting booth and mark his ballot for whomever he chooses, with no one the wiser. All without having to sneakily complete a paper ballot at home or be “required” to discuss his actual choices with his father.


A more troubling example might be an ardent “do-gooder” who decides to help facilitate voting by the infirm – in hospitals, nursing homes or other confined settings. What could be more patriotic than helping whole groups of people fill out their conveniently supplied absentee ballots? 

But consider the downsides. The voter’s choice is immediately known to the do-gooder. Or if the elderly, hospitalized or homeless voters are unsure of their choices, they could be guided by the do-gooder's oral descriptions of the candidates or issues. If such “gentle persuasion” is not effective, true believers could simply misplace the ballots that weren’t completed in the desired manner.  Since no records are kept, no one would ever know.


There are polling locations in Philadelphia where virtually 100 percent of the vote is recorded as having been cast for Democrat candidates. In places dominated by one party, poll watchers complain at the risk of their personal safety – and that’s under the best of circumstances. Without a secret ballot, such mischief is more easily accomplished. 

All of these situations – and many more – can best be addressed by emphasizing and adhering to the sanctity of the secret ballot. Americans, like employers, have the right to insist on the preservation of the secret ballot, but they had better speak up. Many may not be aware, but there is a movement to undermine the entire concept of free and fair elections.