Why open voting in general elections is undesirable

Bernard Manin

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


    In this chapter I discuss voting methods in the electorate, not in parliaments, committees, juries, or other small-sized bodies. I argue that we should not use open voting in general elections. Admittedly, reinstating open voting is nowhere on the actual political agenda, as far as I am aware. Political theorists, however, continue to discuss the issue. A proposal to “unveil the vote” has recently received a good deal of attention (Brennan and Pettit 1990). And from different perspectives other theorists have also questioned the value of secret voting (Barbalet 2002; Bertrand, Briquet, and Pels 2006). Furthermore, the ideal of deliberative democracy, which many theorists – including me – endorse, might seem to imply open voting. If participants in a collective decision disclose their individual positions in the course of discussing a given issue, why should they have to keep their final determinations secret? It is of course possible to separate the deliberation and decision stages, subjecting them to different rules. However, the reasons for subjecting the latter to the rule of secrecy are not self-evident. They need articulating. Moreover, in light of the wide appeal enjoyed today by the notion of transparency, it is not inconceivable that we might soon hear calls to make everyone's vote transparent in order to keep it honest. Finally, as Hubertus Buchstein demonstrates in this volume (Chapter 1), some current practices of online voting de facto undermine the norm of secret voting that seemed well established so far. I claim that open voting in general elections has three undesirable implications: (1) subjecting people's votes to the control of their social environment, (2) increasing the importance of private rewards and punishments in elections, (3) increasing the influence of the rich and powerful strata of the citizenry. PLACING VOTERS UNDER THE CONTROL OF THEIR SOCIAL ENVIRONMENT In theoretical discussions of the subject, ranging from Cicero, to Montesquieu, to Rousseau, to the Mills (both father and son), open voting designates a system in which information about how each person votes is made available to all other voters. This is what I mean by public voting here.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Title of host publicationSecrecy and Publicity in Votes and Debates
    PublisherCambridge University Press
    Number of pages6
    ISBN (Electronic)9781316015360
    ISBN (Print)9781107083363
    StatePublished - Jan 1 2015

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • General Social Sciences


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