Illinois Lawsuit Over Vote-Counting Machines Will Test the Meaning of “Secret Ballot”

On November 20, the County Clerk of Champaign County, Illinois, filed a lawsuit in state court over an Illinois law that requires the county to use vote-counting machines that make an audible beep if a voter attempts to cast a vote that is blank for some offices. The case is Mark Shelden v Illinois State Board of Elections, in Champaign County Circuit Court.

The Illinois constitution requires that all voting be conducted in a way that “insures the secrecy of voting.” The Clerk says that the Constitution is being violated when a voter is forced to vote on a machine that tells everyone in the room if he or she chooses to leave certain offices blank. The Clerk says that there might be poll watchers in the room at the time, and the voter may be intimidated if that voter owes certain favors to people in one of the political parties, or someone in government, and it becomes known that the voter chose to leave some offices blank. See this story. Thanks to Richard Smolka of Election Administration Reports for this story.

In 1964, in Connecticut, a similar controversy arose over secrecy in voting and the use of particular voting machines. Viviam Kellems was upset about Connecticut mechanical voting machines. When a voter used the machine’s straight-ticket device, the machine made a bell-like sound. Kellems insisted that a voter should be able to decide whether to use the straight-ticket device or not without having people outside know. Instead of resorting to the courts, she carried out a sit-in in the voting booth. Elections officials had known what she was going to do, and they had an extra polling place, and let her carry on her sit-in all day. She eventually won the fight, when election officials finally eliminated the Connecticut straight-ticket device.

If the U.S. Supreme Court accepts Doe v Reed, the case from Washington state over secrecy of names and addresses on petitions, there will be a new interest in exactly why all states use a secret ballot, and what “secret ballot” really means.


Illinois Lawsuit Over Vote-Counting Machines Will Test the Meaning of “Secret Ballot” — 3 Comments

  1. Before they eliminated punch card ballots, a precinct level device had been developed that would check whether a voter had undervoted or overvoted. In testing in Chicago, it was observed that election judges offered varying levels of assistance when voters had received a warning – from telling a bewildered voter to figure it out for themselves; to helping the voter figure out what they had done wrong; to grabbing the ballot, making changes and sticking it into the ballot box.

  2. Pingback: Weekly Wrap Up : State of Elections

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