Mill and the secret ballot: Beyond coercion and corruption

Utilitas 19 (3):354-378 (2007)
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In Considerations on Representative Government, John Stuart Mill concedes that secrecy in voting is often justified but, nonetheless, maintains that it should be the exception rather than the rule. This paper critically examines Mill’s arguments. It shows that Mill’s idea of voting depends on a sharp public/private distinction which is difficult to square with democratic ideas about the different powers and responsibilities of voters and their representatives, or with legitimate differences of belief and interest amongst voters themselves. Hence, it concludes, we should reject the assumption, which many of us share with Mill, that the secret ballot is justified only on prudential grounds and recognise how central privacy is to any democratic conception of citizenship and politics.
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