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Voting Alone: The Effects of Secret Voting Procedures on Political Behavior

  • Author(s): Guenther, Scott
  • Advisor(s): Kernell, Samuel
  • Fowler, James
  • et al.
Abstract

Many argue that institutional rules can forcefully shape the calculus of voters and the individuals seeking their vote. In this dissertation, I explore how a specific electoral rule - vote secrecy - can significantly alter the extent voters take into consideration the preferences of other political actors leading to substantial changes in political behavior. In three cases spanning time and political context, I examine how changes to secrecy rules filter and amplify voters' interpersonal considerations. In Vermont town meetings, where public voting was historically the norm, communities' adoption of secret voting produces a sharp drop in support for public schools. The decreased education spending following the transition to secret voting is greatest in communities where most voters do not have school aged children, illuminating how secret voting allow voters to hide their self-interested vote choice. The impact of electoral rules on social pressure and political outcomes is not exclusive to voting patterns in town meetings. I find House committee chairs report bills more representative of the majority party caucus following the adoption of secret votes in 1973 for their reappointment elections. The finding suggests that the power of legislative parties to engage in agenda setting is contingent not only on the rank-and-file's ability to effectively monitor and sanction wayward committee chairs, but also on committee chairs inability to observe the opposition against them. Finally, in examining the adoption of the secret ballot in the late nineteenth century for state and national elections I find evidence that public voting boosted turnout even in the absence of incentives for party mobilization incentives. Increased transparency of voting prior to the adoption of the secret ballot appears to have increased adherence to social norms for civic participation and engagement. Collectively these findings illustrate the multifarious impacts ballot secrecy can have on voter behavior.

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