Cleaning up Elections

The New Zealand Parliament - alarmed by reports of electoral abuses in Auckland - soon decided that the electoral laws needed tightening up.history-women-1899_0.jpg

So in 1858 it passed a series of reform acts, which defined and prohibited treating, bribery and 'undue influence'. Candidates were banned from employing musicians and displaying banners. The placement of committee rooms and polling booths in pubs was also outlawed.

At the time, some politicians urged the adoption of the secret ballot (often called the 'Australian' or 'Victorian' ballot, as it was first adopted in Victoria in 1856). They claimed that this would help stamp out bribery, treating and intimidation - because there would be less incentive to try to influence or threaten electors if their votes could not be traced.

But not everyone thought that voting should be secret. To many, the vote was not an individual right but an important 'public trust' granted to certain citizens to exercise on behalf of their community. Open (public) voting ensured that the holders of this trust were accountable to those who were excluded from the franchise - including, for example, women.

So, instead of the secret ballot, in 1858 Parliament introduced a new verbal voting system. Each elector was required to state the name of the candidate he wished to vote for out loud to the polling official. The official would then record the vote in a poll book, and the elector would sign his name alongside the entry.

This method, its supporters claimed, would at least require the elector to be sober enough to speak. Of course verbal voting was not secret - in 1860 one Auckland newspaper even published a list showing how every elector had voted.



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Last updated: 15 February 2013