The term “secret ballot” is often misunderstood: its purpose, according to nearly all references, including the American and English Encyclopedia of Law in 1899 (p. 585), is not only to allow a voter “to vote without any other person knowing for whom he votes, but to compel him to vote secretly, and thus prevent bribery, coercion, and other evils.” (emphasis added)

No one is going to bribe or threaten someone to vote a particular way if they cannot verify how that person voted; therefore, we voted in secret. But we no longer do: when we mail someone a ballot, they can fill it out — and deposit it — anywhere and anytime they wish, thereby opening the door to bribery, coercion, and other evils, such as fraud.

Mail voting is particularly susceptible to fraud. If a ballot is intercepted before reaching the voter, it may be filled out and returned by a third party, who may provide a reasonable facsimile of the voter’s signature, and the voter may not realize it until the ballot has been opened by the counters. Or it may be intercepted after the voter has filled it out, and never reach the counters.

But ending the secret ballot, as Washington has done, is not merely a bad principle, it’s an unconstitutional one: the Washington State Constitution states in Article VI, Section 6, that “The legislature shall provide for such method of voting as will secure to every elector absolute secrecy in preparing and depositing his ballot.” It doesn’t say that secrecy is optional, it says the legislature “shall provide” a method that “will secure” secrecy in “preparing and depositing” the ballot of “every elector.” Our mailed ballots facially violate the state constitution: we must return to on-site poll voting for every voter to restore our constitutionally mandated secret ballot.

The most glaring practical problem with following the state’s constitutional requirement to a secret ballot is that those who require an absentee ballot in order to vote would be unable to vote. On-site voting prior to election day — which Washington already has to some degree — makes voting more flexible, but it doesn’t help people who are simply unable to attend the polls.

There are currently exceptions that the state would be required to follow: federal law (Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act) provides for absentee voting in federal elections for members of the uniformed services, merchant marines, and family members; U.S. government employees abroad; and private citizens residing outside the U.S. State law would still be required to comply with this. Other exceptions could be added through constitutional amendment, such as for those same citizens in state and local elections; for citizens travelling abroad during the election; and for others physically incapable of going to the polls.

— March 3, 2012

WHEREAS, the secret ballot — a ballot printed by the government at public expense, containing the names of all official candidates and proposals, distributed to an elector at a polling place, and prepared in secret — was implemented across the Western World in the latter half of the 19th century; and

WHEREAS, the purpose of the secret ballot was not only to allow a citizen “to vote without any other person knowing for whom he votes, but to compel him to vote secretly, and thus prevent bribery, coercion, and other evils;” and

WHEREAS, the State of Washington implemented this election reform in 1889 by including it in Article VI, Section 6 of its Constitution, requiring all elections to be held with “absolute secrecy in preparing and depositing” every elector’s ballot; and

WHEREAS, this provision of the Washington State Constitution has not been altered, amended, or deleted in any way since; and

WHEREAS, the State of Washington has in recent years mailed ballots to all electors, to be filled out whenever and wherever the electors wish; and

WHEREAS, mailed ballots are particularly susceptible not merely to bribery and coercion, but also to fraud through interception of the ballot before or after it is in the hands of the elector; and

WHEREAS, such recent changes to elections law eliminate the ballot secrecy required by the the Washington State Constitution, and thus facially violate it;

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Washington State Legislature write laws to comply with the clear text and intent of its Constitution, in that all public elections be conducted solely on ballots that are printed by the government and at the public’s expense, distributed at the polling place, and prepared and deposited in secret at the polling place, except as provided for by federal law and any other provisions of the Washington State Constitution; and that the Legislature introduce a constitutional amendment providing for absentee voting for electors unable to go to the polls.