Ballot (Gr. to throw), originally a little ball cast into a box as a mode of deciding anything; now more usually applied to suffrage by written or printed ticket, in distinction from viva voce announcement, or by holding up the hand, or other visible demonstration. In Athens it was the common mode of voting in the assemblies of the people, and in the courts, at first by casting pebbles into boxes, and afterward beans, white for the affirmative and black for the negative. If this mode of voting had secrecy specially in view, it accomplished it but imperfectly. The assemblies and courts were held in the daytime in public places, and the voters were separated from the popular audience only by a cordon of ropes. When, therefore, the voters went up to the boxes and deposited their ballots, it was possible to know how they voted. Complete secrecy might have been designed in the court of the Areopagus, which made its decisions at night, and without the presence of an audience. Ostracism, which was a vote of the people for the expulsion of a citizen for a fixed number of years, was done by writing the name of the obnoxious party on a shell.
It appears that the assembly of the people at Athens in a legislative capacity passed or rejected a law precisely as it was proposed, without amendment, as in modern times in France and in some of our own states a proposed measure has sometimes been submitted to the people for their approval or rejection. - At Rome secret voting by ballots or tickets was employed, the value of which was sometimes demonstrated by a result different from what might have been expected from popular opinion as openly expressed. Cicero, who did not favor the ballot, because of its tendency to diminish the power of the patricians, nevertheless admits that notwithstanding the laws had been prostrated, yet sometimes they would reappear in the silent suffrages of the people ("judiciis tacitis aut occultis de honore suffragiis "). Pliny objected to the ballot (tacita suffragia), as affording a screen to corruption; but Gibbon attests its value. - In modern times the ballot has been sometimes demanded for legislative bodies, but not often conceded, the prevailing view being that the action of such bodies ought as far as possible to be open to the observation and criticism of their constituents. It was in use in the Venetian senate, and during the reign of Charles II. was once adopted in Scotland for a short time.
In many English corporate bodies, municipal as well as private, the ballot has long been in use; and perhaps it was in imitation of their elections, rather than from any settled conviction of its importance to a free election by the people, that it came to be employed in the New England colonies. Once planted there, it has never been abandoned, but on the contrary the system of open voting which was established in some of the more southern colonies has gradually given way to it. The ballot in the United States is a written or printed ticket having upon it the names of the persons for whom the elector desires to vote for the several offices to be filled at that election, with the proper designation of the office for which each is named. This in some states is so folded as to conceal the written or printed matter, and delivered to an inspector, who immediately deposits it in a sealed box, where it remains until the polls are closed, when a public cavassing of the ballots by the inspectors begins. In this mode complete secrecy is sought to be attained, and the courts have ruled that the elector cannot be compelled afterward in judicial proceedings to disclose how he voted.
It being found that political managers sometimes resorted to tickets of a peculiar color, or with marks on the back, in order that they might be able to determine and mark those who voted against them, the law in some states has forbidden the use of any other than ballots on plain white paper. The secret ballot has also been in use in France, Switzerland, Italy, and Greece. It is also now employed in the Australian colonies. The methods in use there are not uniform: in some the voter receives a ticket with the names of all the candidates upon it, from which he strikes oft* those he does not desire to vote for, and then deposits it in a box; in others, he designates his preference by making a mark opposite the names of his chosen candidates. A system somewhat resembling ballot voting prevails in other countries, but lacking the distinctive element of secrecy, and therefore not classed under this head. In German states the voting is by written or printed ticket delivered publicly to the officer, who reads off and records the vote immediately, and with as much publicity as if it had been given viva voce. - In England the ballot was proposed and received considerable support in the beginning of the 18th century, but it was not till 1830 that it became the subject of much discussion.
In that year O'Con-nell proposed it in the house of commons, and it received 21 votes. Mr. Grote for several years afterward was its most conspicuous supporter, but it had the approval of Macaulay, Gobden, and at length Brougham, among others less noted. It was finally adopted under the lea lership of the Gladstone ministry in 1872, with elaborate regulations to secure secrecy.