From our elections for 5th grade class president, to the last time we went to the polls closed the curtain and voted, most of us have assumed voting by secret ballot in America is a constitutional right, a God given right. It seems so natural in our democracy, most of us believe it has always been that way and always will be.
But neither is the case. And right now, America’s right to a secret ballot is under serious threat, hanging by just a few votes in the U.S. Senate. We’re working to give every voter the opportunity to vote, by secret ballot, to amend state constitutions everywhere guaranteeing the right of a secret ballot. The 47-word amendment simply says:
“The right of individuals to vote by secret ballot is fundamental. Where state or federal law requires elections for public office or public votes on initiatives or referenda, or designations or authorizations of employee representation, the right of individuals to vote by secret ballot shall be guaranteed.”
You might think, “Who could be against the secret ballot?” But a majority in Congress has co-sponsored an Orwellian-named bill called EFCA – the Employee Free Choice Act. This bill would do away with secret ballots elections where employees decide who will represent them. The bill passed the last Congress by 244-185 in the House of Representatives and 51-49 in the Senate, to do away with the current secret ballot guarantee. It only failed final passage because 60 votes were needed in the Senate to end the debate. But now it looks like that 60-vote threshold may be reached.
Perhaps some need a reminder about why we use a secret ballot in America. The first president of the United States elected by secret ballot was Grover Cleveland in 1892. Post-Civil War, the secret ballot was introduced to end voter intimidation of black voters, where voting the “wrong way” on a publicly known ballot could lead to physical harm, even lynching. The secret ballot has become the hallmark of civil rights in America, allowing all of us to vote without fear or reprisal. No wonder persons as diverse as the Reverend Al Sharpton, past presidential nominees George McGovern and John McCain all oppose the ending of secret ballots.
The fear of intimidation is exactly why the United States supports secret ballot elections in emerging democracies around the world. How ironic it would be for Congress to continue to call for secret ballot elections in other countries and to continue to use the secret ballot when electing its own leadership, while it votes to end secret ballot elections for employees.
That’s why the S.O.S. Ballot initiative is so important and why we need to reaffirm the secret ballot in our state constitution. We’re in the process of gathering (number) voter signatures to ensure we all have a right to vote for its protection. To add your signature, please go to www.sosballot.org/(state).
Some critics believe even if we wanted to protect our right to a secret ballot in our state constitution, Congress wouldn’t allow it. Noted constitutional attorney Clint Bolick of the Goldwater Institute specifically wrote the initiative language knowing someone would likely challenge it. He’s ready to defend the initiative and that’s a fight worth having…all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
We’re sending an S.O.S. to voters who want free and fair elections without fear of voter intimidation or reprisal. Save Our Secret Ballot has launched campaigns to create state constitutional guarantees of secret ballot elections in Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Missouri, Nevada, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Utah. We anticipate additional state efforts to be announced in the coming weeks.
Tim Mooney is President of Silver Bullet and General Consultant for the SOS Ballot Campaign