Secret ballots may certainly be necessary to ensure democracy in certain situations. But everything depends on the context.
In some contexts, a secret ballot is clearly regarded as anti-democratic. We insist on open voting in Parliament and on Local Councils. In these contexts, a secret ballot would be regarded as anti-democratic.
We hold that members of Parliament and Councils, as representative bodies, must be accountable to their electors and not just to their political parties. So those who put the representative into Parliament or on Council should be able to see how they have voted on an issue. We insist on open votes even though, in the case of Parliament, we know that party discipline will determine the result of the vote in 99%+ of the cases.
Like Parliament, the Public Office Selection Committee (POSC) of the ALP is a representative body. As its name suggests the POSC is responsible for electing ALP candidates for public office. Under the rules, a 50% weighting is given to its vote. The other 50% is constituted by a vote of members of the ALP in the electorate for which the candidate will represent the Party known as a local plebiscite. Under the rules the POSC is elected by a secret ballot held at the State Conference.
The POSC is elected by State Conference which is composed of 50% of delegates who are elected by the rank and file members of a Federal Electorate Assembly and 50% of delegates that are appointed by affiliated unions. State Conference is also a representative body. 50% of the delegates to State Conference are representative of the individual ALP members who elected them to the State Conference, in ballots that are secret. The other half consists of delegates nominated by unions affiliated to the ALP.
Delegates to the State Conference will often receive votes at least partly on the basis that they will support candidates of a similar outlook in elections for the committees of the State Conference including the POSC- in short members of a particular faction. As a representative body, much like Parliament, there is really no strong basis for asserting that votes of the State Conference delegates, let alone POSC delegates, should be secret at all. Nobody argues that votes of the State Conference in relation to the Party’s platform or policy resolutions should be held in secret. They are open votes like in Parliament. So why should the election of the POSC and other committees of the State Conference be held in secret?
The legitimate purposes of the secret ballot are to protect against bribery, corruption, and intimidation. Bribery means ‘paying money for someone’s vote or promising a degree of patronage as payment in kind’; corruption refers to someone (for example, an employer) threatening ‘to punish those dependent on him unless they vote his line’ and intimidation refers to ‘producing in people a diffuse sense of fear about what may happen to them if they do not vote a particular line’. However, if these factors are not present then there is no particular reason to support a secret ballot or to regard voting in secret as an obligation on the voter as opposed to a right the voter may wish to exercise if that is his or her choice.
The notion that the secret ballot is necessary to protect factional members from intimidation by their factions is fanciful. People join factions voluntarily. It is always open to them to take themselves out of the faction by refusing to follow the faction’s ticket or by refusing to show their ballot paper to another member of the faction.
The secret ballot certainly does nothing to protect the ALP from the corruption of branch-stacking. There is absolutely no reason to think that stackees cease to vote for their sponsors’ favorite candidate because of the secret ballot. The current secret ballot rules have done nothing to prevent branch-stacking.
Secret ballots were introduced in relation to the taking of industrial action in Australia as a means of weakening union solidarity on the job with the ostensible justification that these ballots were necessary to prevent intimidation of workers by unions or pro-union colleagues. In this context, the imposition of the secret ballot preferenced individual rights over collective ones with the objective of hampering the right to strike with time-consuming bureaucratic impediments. And the obligation for a secret ballot is imposed irrespective of whether a majority of the workers affected would prefer an open or secret ballot.
The current ALP Victorian Branch rules only require secrecy while the ballot paper is being filled out. There is currently no specific rule against a voter voluntarily showing their completed ballot to other party members. But the only place voters show their ballots to other members is at State Conference when electing committees of the Conference including the POSC. Nobody shows their ballot in the elections held to elect state conference delegates or in the local plebiscites.
Think about what it is that you look for in candidates that you want to vote for as delegates for State Conference? If you are like me you will want to vote for candidates that will support the sorts of policies you want to see adopted by Conference and who will vote at Conference for people whose views most broadly align with yours in State Conference elections. I am happy for the ballot papers of those candidates I have supported as delegates for the Conference to be checked. That way I can be assured they will vote consistent with the reasons why I have supported them. I fail to see that there is any departure from democratic principles in the ballot paper being checked under these circumstances.
The most common reason why voters at State Conference show their ballot papers to another member of the party is for the factions to check that members of a faction have followed their faction’s ticket. Absent their ability to do this, the ability of factions to implement factional agreements regarding pre-selection may be weakened. This is because no faction will any longer be able to guarantee to another faction that all the factions’ members adhered to the agreement.
So if you are an ALP member who dislikes factional agreements in relation to pre-selections because you feel it undermines the effectiveness of the vote of non-faction members, then you might want to impose secret ballots as an obligation on all voters- not just as a choice that a person can freely exercise. Fair enough I suppose. Just please don’t hide the desire to make factional agreements more difficult to implement behind a pretext that imposing secret ballots on a representative body is somehow inherently more democratic.
Imposing secret ballots as an obligation rather than a right may or may not succeed in weakening the enforceability of factional agreements. But it is unlikely to end them. If the factional agreements are then breached, factional power struggles may become more likely. Some may think this will then result in a flourishing of internal party democracy. Personally, I doubt it.