And Now, For an Election Week Word from Lysander Spooner....

For some reason I can't fathom, this quote from 19th century legal philosopher Lysander Spooner has been on my mind this week:

What is the motive of the secret ballot? This, and only this: Like other confederates in crime, those who use it are not friends, but enemies; and they are afraid to be known, and to have their individual doings known, even to each other….This is avowedly the only reason for the ballot: for a secret government, a government by secret bands of robbers and murderers. And we are insane enough to call this liberty! To be a member of this secret band of robbers and murderers is esteemed a privilege and an honor! Without this privilege, a man is considered a slave; but with it a free man! With it he is considered a free man, because he has the same power to secretly (by secret ballot) procure the robbery, enslavement, and murder of another man, that that other man has to procure his robbery, enslavement, and murder. And this they call equal rights!

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  • ||

    What is with the secret poster software?

  • Brian Doherty||

    Yes, there has been occasional hesitation glitches in the attribution of posts; we're working on it. In the meantime, read unprejudiced by your opinion of the author.....

  • Paul||

    Interesting perspective. Unfortunately, I think the dangers of non-secret or 'open' ballots are far worse. I'll have to read more on Spooner.

  • ||

    Spooner got it wrong on this one.

    Throughout history, dissenters have been brutalized and intimidated. Only by allowing them the secret ballot can you allow the dissenter to "speak" without fear of intimidation.

  • ||

    "For some reason I can't fathom, this quote from 19th century legal philosopher Lysander Spooner has been on my mind this week."

    Allow me to fathom for you, Brian. I like the anti-democratic sentiments expressed by Mr. Spooner, but I don't quite have the balls to say so.

    I've never heard of this "legal philosopher" before, and if this is any indication of this thought, I don't think I'm missing anything.

  • ||

    Yeah,

    What would one of the most important intellectual leaders of the Abolitionist movement know about liberty anyway?

  • ||

    Well, I'm damned proud to be a robber and murderer today.

  • tomWright||

    Perhaps it is because, at least here in NJ, there really is no secret ballot.

    You go to the polls and sign a numbered ticket with a matching numbered stub.

    You hand that numbered stub to a poll worker for the machine you use. The ticket is impaled on a pin in the order people vote.

    You vote.

    The machine records your vote on a tape in the order you voted in.

    Anyone can now match the numbered ticket-stub to the vote on the tape, so long as they keep the sequence right. If you were the tenth person that used the machine that day, mattch the stub thgat is tenth from the bottom og the pile to the tenth vote recorded.

    Then match the numbered stub to the original ticket with your signature, and lo and behold, the world can now know how you voted.

    Yeah, it's a lot of trouble, but very possible.

  • tomWright||

    I am already so used to the spell check feature in FireFox, that when using IE I forget to separately check it.

    Man!, my spelink suhchs

  • ||

    I've never heard of this "legal philosopher" before, and if this is any indication of this thought, I don't think I'm missing anything.

    I guess we can excuse such a snide and disparaging dismissal on the grounds of ignorance.

  • ||

    Yeah, tomWright, we in Ohio have a similar setup, but I'll go you one further: The booth I used was positioned facing the line of people waiting to vote, and there was no curtain. Those new-fangled electronic machines made sure all my choices were in large, elderly-voter-friendly font, and colorfully highlighted, too.

    I asked the poll workers if I could take a picture of the booth I used, telling them I was planning on writing an article on the new electronic machines (blog posts count as articles, right?). They said there was a "no media" rule in effect at the polling station. I didn't think to ask who came up with this rule.

  • ||

    I always did like that guy...

  • ||

    If you like that, you'd love "No Treason".

    Actually, I think Spooner is spot-on.

  • Sam Grove||

    Only by allowing them the secret ballot can you allow the dissenter to "speak" without fear of intimidation.

    Voting isn't speech, it's choice. Many of the early pre-revolutionary political speakers (Cato letters) published anonymously to avoid suppression.
    Yes, there have been historical attempts to influence voters though intimidation, however, making ballots secret hasn't changed the corrupting influence of politics. A secret ballot also allows someone to lie about whether they have been influenced by bribery, etc. In effect, it conceals such influence rather than preventing it.
    So the problem isn't how voting is effected, but in the very nature of political power. Why is it worth engaging in extended measures to influence votes? Because of the lucrative rewards promised by influence on political outcomes.
    Political power corrupts.

  • ||

    I certainly am opposed to secret votes in the Congress and Senate. Make those bastards do a roll call vote on every single thing (clause by clause, line by line, if possible) which comes before them.

  • Shannon Love||

    Outside of very small scale democracy like the New England town hall meeting, I don't think any possible shame factor of open voting would slow down majoritarian appropriations. People support such appropriations with elaborate rationalizations of which they are publicly very proud of. Even if they did not feel justified, the scale of modern society makes it easy to take from another person without having to ever meet them or view them as anything other than some impersonal abstract group.

    I think history has shown that the ability of individuals to secretly rebel against the powers-du-jure in any particular election without fear of individual reprisal outweighs any other disadvantages of secret balloting.

  • ||

    "Yes, there have been historical attempts to influence voters though intimidation, however, making ballots secret hasn't changed the corrupting influence of politics."

    That's a strong statement, and it flies in the face of the obvious advantages in control that a non-secret ballot gives to bribers and intimidators.

    Lysander Spooner's comment in the post itself is awe-inspiring, for sheer stupidity.

  • ||

    Sam Grove

    I recognize your points. Which is why, as a libertarian, I want government to have the least possible amount of power.

    As an example of the necessity of a secret ballot I will point to the recent history of corrupt unions, where the power of the corrupt union bosses was not broken until the union members had a secret ballot and could vote against the corrupt bosses without fear of being beaten up.

  • ||

    Brad DeLong blogged about a talk by a history professor, discussing the introduction of the secret ballot in the late 1800's, in Argentina (IIRC). Before that, the large ranch and plantation owners could reliably deliver the votes of those dependent on them, and had a lot of political power from it. The historian said that, once the secret ballot was introduced, their political power and prestige dropped like a rock.

  • ||

    The secret ballot was important in 2004 for supporters of Bush in coastal cities.

  • ||

    http://delong.typepad.com/sdj/2005/04/james_robinson_.html

    (It was 1958, not the 1800's, and Chile, not Argentian. I've filed a warranty claim for my faulty memory chip.)

    The post also has a number of very cool quotes, discussing the effects of a non-secret ballot.

  • ||

    A secret ballot also allows someone to lie about whether they have been influenced by bribery, etc.

    I think this only applies when legislators or the people who are in power are allowed to vote by secret ballot.

    I don't see how this statement is applicable to the people voting to choose their leaders.

  • ||

    Let's take this a step further. Donating to a candidate shows even more commitment than simply voting for him. Yet my donation is public record for all - your boss, your banker, your attorney, your politically nutz but oh-so-wealthy favorite aged uncle - to see.
    So let's have secret contributing too (perhaps funneled through some Trustees who wouldn't reveal the contributors' names to even the campaign committee of the recipient.)

  • ||

    Lysander Spooner's comment in the post itself is awe-inspiring, for sheer stupidity.

    Oh please - you can certainly disagree with it for the reasons some comments have mentioned, but to call it "sheer stupidity" without any thought to the context and time in which it was written, or of the larger philosophical argument he was making, is, well, sheer stupidity. Of course, even if you do consider all of that it is certainly possible to still disagree in the end, but I find it hard to believe any thoughtful reader of his arguments, whether he agree or not, would label them "awe-inspiring stupidity." Granted, none of that context or history is evident from the post, but that hardly justifies a crass assumption of stupidity on the part of a very thoughtful advocate of freedom.

  • Brian Doherty||

    What Brian Courts said--and if people continue focusing obsessively on the "Secret ballot" part of what is really a commentary on government and democracy writ large, they are missing the point. (Tho they still, I'm sure, don't agree with it.)
    And thanks Creech for pointing out the hypocrisy of those who believe in secret ballots for reasons of "stopping intimidation" but believe in campaign finance law that forbids anonymous contributions to politicians.

  • Sam Grove||

    where the power of the corrupt union bosses was not broken until the union members had a secret ballot and could vote against the corrupt bosses without fear of being beaten up.

    Certainly it is less painful to be deceived and otherwise manipulated than to be physically beaten, but we are still stuck with the corrupting effects of political power.
    Unions had obtained certain protections through political influence making the union business a lucrative one, thus providing the incentive to apply intimidation in certain situations.
    It's not the form of the vote that realy matters, but the systemic flaw inherent in political government that plagues human society.
    Political power corrupts. Not only does it corrupt the wielders of power, but its subjects as well.

  • ||

    Ssshh!:

    Not to mention supporters of Kerry in rural counties...

  • Sam Grove||

    We should keep in mind that Spooner operated a private postal service at the time the U.S. congress undertook to monopolize first class mail under the USPS.
    Righteous indignation.

  • Robert Goodman||

    "As an example of the necessity of a secret ballot I will point to the recent history of corrupt unions, where the power of the corrupt union bosses was not broken until the union members had a secret ballot and could vote against the corrupt bosses without fear of being beaten up."

    The problem there was not the lack of a secret ballot, but the law that makes it legal to beat people up. When persons are beaten up for other reasons, do you blame the circumstances that make it possible for those persons to be located for their beating?

  • Tom||

    "the law that makes it legal to beat people up"

    This must be some kind of subtle joke.

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