Cultures of Voting
The Hidden History of the Secret Ballot
The introduction of the secret ballot is thought to be an essential prerequisite of a genuine political transition and many donor countries and NGOs assure us that it leads inexorably to democracy and transparency. But the social history of the secret ballot, a fascinating cultural phenomenon, has rarely been investigated, till now. While it may indeed offer opportunities for broader participation in politics, on some occasions its introduction limited the electorate and excluded certain groups, while in others it precipitated violence and social discord. Drawing on examples from Mexico, Africa, France, the USA, India and Iran, Cultures of Voting is an innovative analysis of the cultural history of the West’s democratic norms and practices and their imposition on other societies.
Romain Bertrand is a researcher at CERI in Paris.
Peter Pels is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Amsterdam.
Jean-Louis Briquet is a researcher at CERI in Paris.
‘Every once in a while, a book comes along that is refreshingly original and makes one think anew about a ‘well-known’ topic. This is such a book: a breath of fresh air in the literature on democracy. Its originality lies in subjecting to critical scrutiny a technology that is so often taken for granted in discussions on democracy. We ‘know’ that the secret ballot was a good thing, and that it is an old technique, perhaps co-eval with modern procedures of voting. This book reveals that it was not so—that the rise of such procedures is an historical accident and novelty, and that the meaning and procedures of the secret ballot still vary enormously across different places. — Professor Akhil Gupta, Stanford University