Wednesday, October 27, 2004


Secret ballots

When in the second half of the [nineteenth] century peasants began to secure the vote -- first in France in 1848, in Germany in 1871, in Britain in 1884, in Spain in 1890, in the Habsburg Monarchy in 1907, in Italy in 1912 -- landlords in local and national politics expected support at the polls. Where necessary, it was enforced by bribery or coercion: the ballot was public in Austria and Prussia, for example, and not effectively secret in Britain or France. Peasants were often mustered by priest or bailiff to vote in a body. One German landlord distributed completed ballot papers to his peasants in sealed envelopes. A curious voter started to open his to see how he was voting, and received a smack on the head from the outraged bailiff: "It's a secret ballot, you swine!"
From Robert Tombs, "Politics," in The Nineteenth Century, p. 19.

P.S. At least the peasants had envelopes to open.

Collective Improvisation:

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