Against the secret ballot: Toward a new proposal for open voting

Bart Engelen, Thomas R. V. Nys


The secret ballot is considered a central feature of free and fair elections all over the world. While the reasons to uphold it seem to be overwhelming, we argue that the secret ballot is only second-best at best and that a modified version of open voting might prove to be more democratic. Instead of denying the various problems and difficulties that an open system might encounter, we want to offer a genuine proposal that can avoid these numerous pitfalls. After rehearsing the various arguments pro and contra open voting, we draw attention to the role of shame, which has been neglected by both sides in the debate. While shame plays a pivotal role in the democratic argument pro open voting, it also brings out new problems that tell against opening up the vote. This means that, if we want to draw on the democratic potential of open voting, we will have to find a system that minimizes the undesirable effects of shame. In the third and final section, we will formulate a concrete proposal of open voting that we believe is more democratic than the current secret ballot and is able to avoid potential worries. Even if this proves to be highly speculative, it serves as an invitation for further empirical research.