Secret Ballots and Secret Petitions

Print Friendly


Would you sign a petition if it meant you risked receiving death threats, losing your job, or having your home vandalized?

That is what voters in Washington state fear. In 2009, citizens signed petitions to put a marriage referendum on the ballot. Homosexual activists want all those names made public and posted on the Internet.

What’s the harm in that? Well, in California, homosexual activists harassed, threatened, boycotted, and vandalized the property of people and churches that supported Prop 8, a ballot initiative defining marriage as between a man and a woman.

So Washington voters are suing to keep their names private. Their case is before the U.S. Supreme Court. So valid are the plaintiffs’ fears of a violent backlash, the court allowed them to file the lawsuit anonymously. The case is called John Doe #1, John Doe #2 and Protect Marriage Washington vs. Sam Reed.

CWA filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court. It argues that signing a referendum petition is equivalent to voting, and petition signers need protection for the same reason that we need a secret ballot.

Before the advent of the secret ballot, citizens faced bribes, violence, or being fired – schemes to influence voters and sway elections.

During the colonial period, votes were cast by voice or an upraised hand. The lack of secrecy led to corruption, bribery, intimidation, fraud, and violence. A previous Supreme Court decision from 1992, Burson v. Freeman, relates from an historical account:

One writer describes the conditions as follows: This sounds like exaggeration, but it is the truth; and these are facts so notorious that no one acquainted with the conduct of recent elections now attempts a denial – that the raising of colossal sums for the purpose of bribery has been rewarded by promotion to the highest offices in the Government; that systematic organization for the purchase of votes, individually and in blocks, at the polls, has become a recognized factor in the machinery of the parties; that the number of voters who demand money compensation for their ballots has grown greater with each recurring election.”

By the end of the 1700s, most states were using a paper ballot. Voters brought their handwritten ballot from home to the polling place. Political parties and candidates took advantage, and prepared brightly colored or specially designed ballots for voters that could be recognized at a distance. The party operative or candidate could watch as the voter placed the ballot in the ballot box.

Polling places were described as “scenes of battle, murder, and sudden death.” Voter intimidation was extensive, especially by employers whose managers would stand at the entrance of polling places to watch as employees voted. Employees could lose their jobs, and, if in a factory-owned town, thrown out of their home if they voted against the wishes of their bosses.

In Australia, another country that was experiencing violence and corruption in its elections, an attorney invented the government-printed ballot slip. It became known as the “secret ballot.” By 1892, half of American states were using it.

The secret ballot is now universally recognized as crucial to the integrity of an election. As an indication of worldwide agreement, the United Nations has proclaimed the secret ballot to be a fundamental human right.

The same kinds of threats and intimidation are experienced today by petition signers. But, as CWA’s brief notes, the “risk of reprisal for a minority opposition who signs a petition is the same as that of a voter, and in fact, in some regards is even greater. When a citizen casts a secret ballot, that ballot does not contain the voter’s name, home address, or e-mail address. A secret ballot only contains the voter’s opinion on the ultimate issue in the election without any identifying information regarding the voter himself. The global publication on the Internet of this personal information encompasses privacy and safety issues extending beyond the voter who signed the petition to his or her spouse, innocent children, any other individual residing with the signer, and even their neighbors. In California, Proposition 8 supporters had their homes egged, floured, and even urinated on.”

With the technology of the Internet, petition signers’ information can be disseminated around the world along with pictures and maps of their homes and businesses. This raises the risks of identity theft, and even more chilling, it is an invitation for America’s enemies to impact our political process through voter intimidation.

In 1973, the Secretary of State of Washington issued an Official Statement that “I consider the signing of an initiative or referendum petition a form of voting by the people. Furthermore, the release of these signatures have no legal value, but could have deep political ramifications to those signing. I will not violate the public trust.”

Please pray that the Supreme Court protects the integrity of our elections and voters from homosexual activists’ bullying.

Leave a Reply