It was on Thursday 18th July 1872 that the Royal Assent was given to the ‘Parliamentary and Municipal Elections (Ballot) Bill’.
Put simply – from now on each individual vote would be cast in secret. This was a fundamental change to an age old process. No longer would those entitled to vote have to identify in public their choice of candidate. Now every voter was independent and bribery and enforcement as to who to vote for was no more. The loss of power over the individual voter was a major concern for many, but many other ‘reasons’ were given as to why the ‘powers that be’ were against the Bill. One such reason was cost.
The Morning Post felt that ‘it may not be out of place to consider a few points connected with its practical working. One of the first things which will occur to the student of the Ballot Bill will be the heavy responsibility which is cast on the Sherriff and his subordinates. It calculated that for Surrey, for instance, we may estimate that voting booths for 48 districts would cost £2,000; three deputies to oversee – £450; rooms for nomination, counting &c £150; ballot boxes, marking instruments &c £500; deputy sheriffs £372; poll clerks £312; printing, stationery, travelling expenses and sundries £300; making a total of £4,084 as against £1,420 at the last election under the old system. For this sum, as we have said, the High Sheriff will be liable, and will be able to sue each candidate only for his proportion. If among the candidates there should be any “men of straw”, the Sheriff will be a loser so far as their proportion is concerned. The office of Sheriff, except in the City of London, is rarely much sought after. On the contrary, it is generally undertaken with great unwillingness. Certainly the liabilities and responsibilities which the New Ballot Act will attach to it are not likely to render the office more attractive.’
Welcome to the voting system that remains with us to this day.