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THE GOVERNMENT BALLOT BILL. THE anxiety and curiosity of the advocates of secret voting are now fairly set at rest by the in- troduction of the long promised Parliamentary Elections Bill. We have called it the Ballot Bill, though it does not in reality pass under that designation. We have to thank an enemy of secret voting for provoking the Prime Minister to christen it by this name, and we believe that it will hence- forth be better known as a Ballot measure than by any other title. Colonel Knox charged the Government with bringing in "a Ballot Bill in disguise." No," retorted Mr. Gladstone, it is certainly a Ballot Bill, but not in disguise." The whole country was prepared to hear that the prin- ciple of the Ballot had been adopted by Her Majesty's advisers, and therefore expected that they would no sooner touch the putrid sore of the British Electoral system than they would prescribe secrecy of voting as the main cure. The Ballot can hardly be called a party question now. Most of its opinions will probably be discovered under the banner of Conservatism, but some of its sup- porters are rank Tories, while many of its oppo- nents are Whigs or Liberals. Colonel Knox might well have saved himself the trouble of insinuating that the Marquis of Hartington's Bill would be a Ballot in disguise, for there is not 'the slightest occasion in the world for disguising the Ballot. This measure of reform must be conceded to the imperative demands of the British nation, and the audacious interference of one class of voters with another has left the country no alternative but the Ballot. We were all prepared, then, for the frank assertion of the principle of secret voting as one of the bulwarks of individual freedom. And yet the Government measure takes us by surprise. We hardly expected a cut and dry system to be launched. We knew that a cloak of secrecy must be provided for the voter, but the exact pattern by which the garment should be cut was scarcely anti- cipated and, therefore, when the Postmaster- General threw down the mantle on the floor of the Hlmse, ready made, and scrupulously finished off, even to the minutest detail, the country could hardly do otherwise than look on with bated breath. It is unquestionably a bold step on the part of the Government to invent a system of secret voting, and lay it on the table. It must be remembered that the country is almost deluged with such in- ventions, and some of them of a highly ingenious character. Nothing else could have been expected in a community famous for many centuries for its mechanical skill. Some of the inventors had ac- tually proceeded so far as to secure possession of the offspring of their genius by means of a patent, while others were urging with much force the superior claims of their own theory, though— through the kindness of Fortune—not yet protected by a patent* Her Majesty's Ministers would readily have been pardoned had they assured the House that they were so completely bewildered by the multitude of contrivances which had been sub- mitted to them, that they proposed to appoint a body of Commissioners to examine the various devices, and report. But we all know what a lingering process such an enquiry would neces- sarily be. The Government has avoided the disaster of delay, refused to send out a half- fledged bird from its nest, and presented the country with a finished measure. We do not hesitate to pronounce this a most gratifying con- clusion for the agitation of years to have arrived at. For a strong Liberal Ministry to have con- tented itself in the year 1870 with simply de- claring in favour of the principle of secret voting, would, after all, have been very unsatisfactory. It was clearly incumbent on it to say how the thing should be done. Nor has it shrunk from this task, but boldly accepting the responsibility, it has pre- pared a scheme which differs in some important particulars from all that had previously been sug- gested by outsiders, and it is so constructed in the main as to supply the very want of which the people have everywhere been vehemently com- plaining. There will, no doubt, be some hard criticism levelled at the Bill. Those especially who, like Mr. Leatham, have Ischemes of their own, will be disposed to pick holes wherever any- thing soft or friable enough for picking can be discovered. Mr. Leatham has, indeed, already denounced the Government plan, for not rendering the votes absolutely inviolable and it must be admitted that no one is more entitled to speak on the Ballot than Mr. Leatham, but it is not to be, and has not been, forgotten that this was the very objection which was made to his own method. At the same time, we are free to confess that the ob jection is, to some extent, a sound one—not j affecting the principle of the measure, it is true, but showing that there is room for one improve- ment in the details. We have given the Marquis of Hartington's description of the Government Ballot in another column, and refer our readers to it for all particulars, but we shall briefly explain it here in order to point out the precise improve- ment which we would suggest. The deputy- returning officer appointed to preside at a booth will be furnished with polling papers resembling a cheque in a banker's cheque-book. These papers will have a counterfoil, and this counterfoil will have a number on it corresponding to a number on the back of the polling paper. When a voter pre- ) sents himself, he will, in the first place, have to establish his claim to vote, and will then receive a polling paper. The deputy-returning officer will, meanwhile, enter upon the counterfoil the voter's number on the register, so that the counterfoil will now have two numbers on it—one corresponding to that on the polling paper, and one corresponding to that on the register. The elector will then retire to a private room, cross out from his polling paper the names of the candidates for whom he does not wish to vote, fold it up with the number outside and the names inside, and, in presence of the deputy-returning officer, and the candidates' agents, deposit it in the ballot box. This arrange- ment will thoroughly prevent the deposit of fraudu- lent votes, for not only must the paper be dropped into the box in the presence of witnesses looking on with eager eyes, but it must have the number outside so as to be seen there and then, and if any attempt should be made to practice cheatery it will be nipped in the bud. At the close of the poll, the deputy* returning officer will open the ballot box, in presence of the agents of the candidates, make all the papers up into packets of so many each—taking care to keep the numbers up, and not the names and will then have his own seal, and also the seals of the agents, affixed to them. This having been completed, he will forward the packets to the returning officer. When this official has received all the papers from the various booths, he will proceed, in presence of the agents of the can- didates, to reckon the votes, without looking at the numbers printed on the back, and will then re-seal the packets, and transmit them to the Clerk of the Crown. The elector will thus be thoroughly protected in the exercise of his franchise. But will all apprehensions of discovery be thus removed from the voter's mind ? There is certainly some reason for fearing lest the deputy-returning officer may take a note of the number of a particular voter in whom he may be interested, and when he is opening the polling papers he may turn this one over so adroitly as to see at a glance what votes I have been recorded. It would be easy to open a paper in such a way as to see both sides, while ap- parently not endeavouring to look at more than one. Even if this could only be done with diffi- culty, it would act upon the minds of many a one as an intimidation, and would in this way destroy that sense of security which the ballot system is intended to foster. If an arrangement could be ( made by which the number on the register would) be printed on the counterfoil, and the same number afterwards written with invisible ink on the back of the polling paper by the deputy-returning officer, and no other Qtygiber printed or written on this i >aper, the electors would have no reason to fear tny discovery. The polling paper would be sent )ff to the C!erk of the Crown as soon as the declara- tion of the state of the poll had been officially nade, and no person having any local interest in J. voter, or his vote, would have any opportunity of scrutinizing the papers. We are, therefore, dis- posed to ask for this one amendment in the Go- vernment scheme. In all other respects we regard their contrivance as both simple and practically perfect. It may be improved a little, but even taking it as it now stands, it is a system worthy of the thanks of those who have long striven for the Ballot, fought for it against deadly odds, and al- most despaired of seeing it recognised by a respon- sible Minister of the Crown. Secrecy of voting is not, however, the only good provision in the Government Bill. The intolerable nuisance of public-house committea rooms is to receive a fatal blow. There are public-houses conducted in an unobjectionable manner, but uhousands of those which are employed for electioneering purposes in every large' constituency are nothing but sinks of corruption. We have recently had evidence in our own parish of the influence such places have on local elections, but when they are made centres of action while a seat in Parliament is the honour coveted, they convert a whole borough into a sort of madhouse. The present nomination system is also to be abolished, and the degrading scenes too often witnessed on and from the hustings, are to be relegated to history. These are wise proposals. Some others might have been ventured on. The defraying of expenses out of the rates might, for instance, have been provided for but we have re- ceived a good handful, and may well rejoice over it—assured that all other requisites will come in time.