Thursday, January 7, 2021’s Smile of the Day: The Secret Ballot

On this Day:

In 1856, the 1st piece of legislation anywhere in the world  (the Electoral Act of 1856) which provided for elections by way of a secret ballot was passed by the Colonial Tasmanian Parliament. Except well, it wasn’t.

In ancient Greece, secret ballots were used in several situations like ostracism and also to remain hidden from people seeking favors.

In ancient Rome, the laws regulating elections were collectively known as Tabellariae Leges, the first of which was introduced in 139 BC (lex Gabinia tabellaria).

The ballot laws of the Roman Republic (Latin: leges tabellariae) were four laws which introduced the secret ballot to all popular assemblies in the republic. They were all introduced by tribunes, and consisted of the lex Gabinia tabellaria (or lex Gabinia) of 139 BC, applying to the election of magistrates; the lex Cassia tabellaria of 137 BC, applying to juries except in cases of treason; the lex Papiria of 131 BC, applying to the passing of laws; and the lex Caelia of 107 BC, which expanded the lex Cassia to include matters of treason. Prior to the ballot laws, voters announced their votes orally to a teller, essentially making every vote public. The ballot laws curtailed the influence of the aristocratic class and expanded the freedom of choice for voters. Elections became more competitive. Counter-intuitively, the secret ballot also led to an increase in bribery by removing social pressure as a means of obtaining votes.

One of the justifications for the ballot laws—aside from protecting the freedom of the people—may have been to curb corruption, since it was no longer possible for candidates to check whether a citizen voted for him. If that was the intention, the ballot laws had the opposite effect. Candidates could no longer rely on the support of their clients or of other citizens to whom they owed favours, making canvassing more important. In addition, candidates could previously bribe voters by promising payment upon receiving their vote. With the secret ballot, this was no longer possible, making it necessary to bribe potential as well as actual voters. Furthermore, voters had the option of accepting bribes from every candidate and voting for the highest bidder, or voting their conscience. This made bribery a more competitive affair as candidates attempted to outbid each other, either by holding lavish games and feasts or by directly promising money to voters.

Today, the practice of casting secret ballots is commonplace. Many voters would not consider that any other method might be used, however other methods which had been used and which are still used in some places and contexts include “oral votes”, as well as open ballot systems which involve the public display of votes or roll calls. Other public voting methods include raising a hand to indicate a vote or using coloured marbles or cards to indicate a voting choice (per Wikipedia).

First, a Story:

Karl Marx and Adam Smith are debating the differences between their economic views. Adam Smith asks Karl Marx “What, in your view, is the difference between capitalism and communism?”

Karl Marx replies:  “In a capitalist society, man exploits man,  and in a communist one, it’s the other way around.”

Second, a Song:

In terms of the right to exercise your vote in a secret ballot, the words of Bob Marley and Peter Tosh come to mind.

“Get Up, Stand Up” is a song written by Bob Marley and Peter Tosh. It originally appeared on The Wailers’ 1973 album Burnin’. It was recorded and played live in numerous versions by Bob Marley and the Wailers, along with solo versions by Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer. It was later included on the compilations Legend and Rebel Music, as well as live recordings such as Live at the Roxy among others.

In 1973, “Get Up, Stand Up” peaked at number 33 on the Dutch Top 40. In 1986, it peaked at number 49 in New Zealand.

Marley wrote the song while touring Haiti, deeply moved by its poverty and the lives of Haitians, according to his then-girlfriend Esther Anderson. The song was frequently performed at Marley’s concerts, often as the last song. “Get Up, Stand Up” was also the last song Marley ever performed on stage, on 23 September 1980 at the Stanley Theater, now the Benedum Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

On his DVD Live at the Hollywood Bowl, artist Ben Harper relates a childhood experience in which, during a 1978 Bob Marley concert at the Starlight Amphitheater, Peter Tosh showed up unannounced as this song was being performed, took the microphone from Marley and started singing the last verse of the song to thunderous applause. Tosh was on tour opening for the Rolling Stones at the time (per Wikipedia).

Marley, in a simplistic way, is arguing against complacency and the denial of rights wherever they may be seen. In the context of his beliefs as a  Pan-Africanist we can assume that this song has ties to black rights. Standing up against the evils of oppression in order to gain rights is at the core of Marley’s beliefs and is likewise on display in the song

Bob Marley was a self proclaimed Rastafarian, a spiritual belief that is rooted in the praise of a single god, with one of the central tenets of the religion being a return of displaced blacks back to  Africa. As a religion that has a greater appeal to action rather then re-action, the effect it has on his beliefs  is seen as rather then wait for a time of rapture and the bringing of people to a heaven, action should be taken to make the mortal life more livable, therefore they should fight for their rights against the systems of oppression they have held them down. Marley’s music has a philosophical approach to it, one that merges his sound and politics and makes him a really great, and unique artist (per

In 1988, “Get Up, Stand Up” was performed live at an Amnesty International Concert for Human Rights by Bruce Springsteen, Sting, Peter Gabriel, Tracy Chapman and Youssou N’Dour.  Here is that version.  I hope you enjoy this!


Thought for the Day:

“Elections should be held on … the day after we pay our income taxes. That is one of the few things that might discourage politicians from being big spenders.” – Thomas Sowell

Have a great day!

© 2021 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky

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