Something happened to the concept of the secret ballot. It is no longer guaranteed. “Really?” you ask? Well, that’s the way it looked to me when I got my Benton County ballot for the May 17 primary.
Back in the day, nobody could tell how you voted because once you dropped your completed ballot in the box at a polling station under the watchful eyes of those ladies, there was no way to connect it with you. After we went to voting by mail, officials tried to guarantee secrecy by supplying special envelopes. You signed the mailing envelope so the elections office could tell it came from a registered voter, but your actual ballot inside was hiding in the “secrecy envelope” which, once separated from the mailing envelope, was anonymous and untraceable.
Oregon Secretary of State Jeanne P. Atkins refers to this in her online description of Oregon’s system: “Voters … receive an official ballot to complete and insert into the security envelope which is placed in the ballot return envelope and signed by the voter.”
So imagine my surprise when I finally opened my primary ballot mailing. No secrecy envelope. Instead, an “optional ballot secrecy sleeve.” On this sleeve, which lacks a flap to seal it, there’s advice: “You may use this secrecy sleeve but it is not required. Elections staff will ensure the secrecy of your ballot.”
Of course all our elections workers are honest. None of them would ever, while processing the incoming ballot mail, see a familiar name and think: “Wonder how she voted,” and sneak a quick peak as the ballot tumbles out. And certainly nothing worse would ever happen either, such as agents of a political machine making sure some ballots disappeared depending on how they were filled out.
No, it wouldn’t happen, so you are supposed to be at ease with the advice that “elections staff will ensure the secrecy of your ballot.”
If that’s so, one wonders, why did we have all those procedures intended to make sure nobody could tie your completed ballot to you? (hh)