Monday, September 10, 2007

The Secret Ballot Again

I was about to say, "Few books are worth reading twice," but that's unfair. Many are, and yet I rarely read a book a second time -- there are simply too many books out there I haven't even read once.

And yet . . . I was at loose ends, unhappy with my latest purchase and casting about for something else, and it struck me that I should reread Mills Thorton's Power and Politics in a Slave Society. I was sure I raced through it too fast the first time. As magnificent as I found it, there was much I didn't absorb. So I'm reading it again, slowly, savoring it like a fine wine.

About a week ago, I mused on the origins and importance of the secret ballot. In that context, here's an otherwise purely trivial sentence that leaped out at me:
Voting [in pre-War Alabama] was by ballot, but a number was placed on each ballot corresponding to a number by the voter's name on the master list, so it was possible later to determine how each man had used his franchise.

Thornton goes on to point out that the existence of these lists was rarely used to challenge voters or votes after the fact, but the fact remains that that one's vote was not secret when cast, and it was not secret afterwards either.

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