The Secret Ballot


Published as part of The People’s Charter, this diagram shows how the principle of a secret ballot could be put into practice.

Voting in the mid-nineteenth century was still done in public by 'show of hands' at the 'hustings' (a temporary, public platform from which candidates for Parliament were nominated). A landlord or employer could therefore see how their tenant or employee was voting and influence or intimidate them. By contrast, a secret ballot allows voters to make confidential choices and thus helps prevent intimidation and bribery.

The demand for a secret ballot was one of the six key points of the People's Charter and the Chartists’ 1838 petition stated that 'suffrage, to be exempt from the corruption of the wealthy and the violence of the powerful, must be secret'. As the Charter's points were not passed into law at the time, however, the voting process was not made secret until much later, when the Ballot Act was passed in 1872.

Taken from: The People's Charter
Author / Creator: The London Working Men's Association
Date: 1838
Copyright: By permission of the British Library Board