Are US election ballots “secret”?

approximately 25% of all respondents, and larger shares of less educated, less affluent, and minority groups, do not believe their ballot choices are kept secret. Second, 70% of respondents report sharing their vote choices with others. In sum, few people view their vote choices as truly private.

…The expectation that one may reveal one’s vote to others casts a shadow over choices made in the voting booth, opening these choices to the influence of social expectations. Of course, revealing one’s vote choice is not compulsory, but in an environment where there is a norm of sharing political views, the freedom to refuse to discuss one’s vote may be pointless—failing to disclose your vote may effectively reveal it.

Lying about one’s choice or refusing to participate openly in a conversation about the election is always an option, but individuals typically experience discomfort when lying or keeping secrets. In situations where that discomfort is anticipated, voting the “right” way is perhaps the easiest way to avoid having to be secretive or deceptive.

…Consequently, choices in the voting booth may reflect not just personal preferences, but also fears about going against the wishes of those who would learn of one’s vote choices.

That is a new paper from several Yale colleagues: Gerber, Huber, Doherty and Dowling.

Previously I blogged about The Right to Vote, a history of the dubious US franchise. I recall several founding fathers decrying the secret ballot as odious and cowardly. Mostly, though, I enjoyed reading about the election antics that would make an African dictator blush.

I just hope no one passes the book around today; I would hate for this generation’s global thugs to rehash old American ideas.

It reminds us neither the present nor past of American democracy is always what we believe.

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