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the strike and the cross

1856 Tasmanian Electoral Act

Talented Mr Boothby

Wakefield and ballot

The Australian Ballot

Secret ballot - not an Australian first
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Enrolling the People


The Development of Modern Electoral Administration
a postgraduate project of the ANU and the Electoral Council of Australia 
funded by a grant from the Australian Research Council.

Tasmania's secret ballot - a little bit of revision

A couple of years ago Terry Newman of the University of Tasmania made a discovery that should lead to publishers revising their textbook and other descriptions of the introduction of the secret ballot in the Australian colonies in the mid to late 1850s. As his paper's abstract begins: "Encyclopaedias and handbooks, etc, all present Tasmania's starting date for implementing the secret ballot as 1858 ..."; it should really be 1856.  See Newman's paper (large-ish PDF; new window):

Here, for example, is a table from Fin Crisp's classic Australian National Government. Look at the column for secret ballot and see Tasmania's date as 1858. 

The only place known to have a copy of the 1856 Tasmanian Electoral Act is the Tasmanian Supreme Court, who kindly sent me a photocopy. Here is the front page (in new window, close it to return).

Below is the clause which describes the procedure of taking a government-printed ballot slip into a private compartment etc. This is the defining feature of the "Australian ballot", and it was this, rather than the "secret ballot" per se, that was invented in Australia

Clause 63 of 1856 Tasmanian Electoral Act



And below are two clauses from the Victorian 1856 Electoral Act, where the Australian ballot began. Note from the second one that the vote was not absolutely secret, being ultimately traceable; a feature that only caught on in NZ and the UK. (See also this.)

Clause XXXVI of the Victorian Electoral Act 1856


 The returning officer or his deputy shall provide a locked box of which he shall keep the key with a cleft or opening in such box capable of receiving the ballot paper and which box shall stand upon the table at which the returning officer deputy returning officer or poll clerk and scrutineers preside And each elector shall having previously satisfied as herein provided the returning officer or his deputy that he is entitled to vote at such election then receive from the returning officer or deputy returning officer or poll clerk a ballot paper in the form in the schedule hereunto annexed marked F and which ballot paper shall be signed upon the back by the returning officer with his name and such elector shall in the compartment or ballot room provided for the purpose strike out the names of such candidates as he does not intend to vote for and shall forthwith fold up the same in such manner as will conceal the names of the candidates and display that of the returning officer written upon the back and deposit it in the ballot box in the presence of the returning officer or deputy returning officer or poll clerk and scrutineers and in case such elector shall be unable to read or shall be blind he shall signify the same to the returning officer or deputy returning officer or poll clerk who shall thereupon mark or strike out the names of such candidates as the elector may designate and no elector shall take out of such room any such ballot paper either before or after he has marked the same and any elector wilfully infringing any of the provisions of this clause or obstructing the polling by any unnecessary delay in performing any act within the ballot room shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanour.


Clause XXXVIII of the Victorian Electoral Act 1856


Before delivering the ballot paper to the elector as hereinbefore provided the returning officer or deputy returning officer or poll clerk shall write upon each ballot paper so delivered to such elector the number corresponding to the number set opposite to the electorís name in the electoral roll and shall thereupon check or mark off upon a certified copy of the electoral roll such voterís name as having voted and such numbers so corresponding as aforesaid shall be sufficient prima facie evidence of the identity of the electors whose names shall appear on the roll and of the fact of their having voted at the election at which such ballot papers were delivered.