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Where I live (and perhaps in may other place across the world), in order for a party / person to be able to become a candidate in some elections (European Parliament, local, general/parliamentary, presidential), they must raise a certain amount of signature (actually some identification information from national ID + signature).

While one is allowed to sign only once for a certain party, I am wondering why there is no "obfuscation" (security) in place to make harder for someone to know your political option, basically who you will most probably vote for in those elections. Somehow it seems to contradict the idea of secret ballot.

Question: How does having to sign to support someone for elections fit with having a secret ballot?

  • Comments deleted. Please don't answer the question with comments. If you would like to answer the question, please write a real answer. – Philipp Apr 6 at 17:18
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Per the wiki article you linked to in your question, secret ballots were introduced to fight things like vote buying, intimidation, and blackmailing.

In principle, one is a public display of opinion (free or not is completely irrelevant), while the other is a private vote -- even if you publicly say that you voted for this or that (freely or not is also irrelevant), no one can check that you actually did vote like that.

On the topic of ballot option endorsements, things are trickier. And I should note in passing that it's not unheard of to sign for a ballot option that you do not approve of, in the interest of giving a voice to the entire political spectrum, and face intimidation before doing so or repercussion after having done so.

In France, for instance, there was a time when the extreme right polled around 10-15% across the whole country, but because they'd rarely have a majority in municipalities and the like, they struggled to get the needed 500 signatures by elected officials to put a Presidential candidate forward. In large part, this was because a lot of intimidation was going on against the mayors who would provide their endorsement in the name of putting all relevant choices on the ballot. The Communist party, by contrast, basically polled epsilon across the country except in a few concentrated areas where they scored very well, and they were on good enough terms with the socialists that they'd get the 500 signatures without any problems.

Countering that problem is a lot trickier.

Frankly the main thing that immediately springs to mind is some kind of first round of voting where only those allowed to endorse candidates would get to vote. But then there's a natural counter argument to do so, which is that: If as a candidate or a promoter of some cause you can't get a large enough number of people to publicly endorse that you're a sensible ballot option, then you or your cause probably do not deserve to be on the ballot at all. (In other words, the exact same type of criteria that guards communities that allow referendums by popular support against voting constantly on pointless topics.)

Another thing that springs to mind is an open ballot. The problem there is that the gate is wide open to interpret whatever voters filled in (think typos, difficult to read handwriting, etc.).

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    If I signed a petition for "Revolutionary Party of Arstotzka" to appear on a ballot, then it's fairly obvious that I have an intention to vote for it, isn't it? Now, oppressive Arstotzkan government has me on the list of opposition supporters and can intimidate or blackmail me. – default locale Apr 3 at 7:45
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    @defaultlocale: No, it's not obvious. You could have signed such a petition at gun point. And you could then ignore that option on the actual ballot, by virtue of your vote being secret. – Denis de Bernardy Apr 3 at 7:47
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    The situation I'm trying (and failing miserably) to describe is when a small opposition party wants to get on the ballot. People who support this party are at risk of being targeted and want to keep their vote secret. The signature gathering requirement will expose their vote and open them up for intimidation. – default locale Apr 3 at 8:06
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    @defaultlocale: I'd say you succeeded fairly well in your last comment. I was actually expanding on my answer as you replied to raise that. But even then there's an underlying assumption that the country is a democracy, and it admittedly won't be too helpful in the case of an autocratic country. – Denis de Bernardy Apr 3 at 8:30
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    @defaultlocale Aside from begin forced to sign at gunpoint, you are ignoring the existence of tactical voting. For example if I want party A to win but they appear to be losing to party B, I might decide to make a lot of public noise supporting party C (your RPA party) because they are more likely to take votes away from B than from A - but of course I will actually vote for A. – alephzero Apr 3 at 13:32
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If the number of signatures required is unnecessarily high this will indeed breach the secrecy of a ballot and go against the free expression of the opinion of the electors.

The high threshold will disproportionately affect independents and small parties in two ways:

  • it will disqualify those who fail to gather enough signatures;
  • it will force the large proportion of supporters to publicly support the candidate.

The first point usually attracts more attention as it prevents people from participating in elections, but the issue with a secret ballot is also a valid concern.

On the other hand, if the signature threshold is reasonably low, the effect on the secrecy of a ballot should be insignificant: only a small number of avid supporters will have to provide their signature and those are expected to publicly voice their support anyway.

The very purpose of the signature gathering requirement is to make it harder for small parties/independents to appear on the ballot. The requirement like this raises the bar to participate in the elections and is undemocratic in nature. The goal is to create a barrier high enough to prevent frivolous/disruptive candidates from running and low enough in order to not impede the democratic process.

Venice Commission recommends not to gather signatures from more than 1% of voters (Code of Good Practice in Electoral Matters):

Submission of candidatures
i. The presentation of individual candidates or lists of candidates may be made conditional on the collection of a minimum number of signatures;
ii. The law should not require collection of the signatures of more than 1% of voters in the constituency concerned;
iii. Checking of signatures must be governed by clear rules, particularly concerning deadlines;
...

OSCE reports on elections tend to criticize the unnecessarily harsh signature collection requirements:

Report on Parliamentary Elections in the Republic of Moldova, 24 February 2019
... Male candidates in the single member constituencies had to collect between 500 and 1,000 supporting signatures from eligible voters, female candidates between 250 and 500.23 Some ODIHR EOM interlocutors reported that the signature collection requirements are overly detailed, technical, and somewhat burdensome, particularly for independent candidates.

Report on Parliamentary Elections in Romania, 9 December 2012 ...
. Prospective independent candidates need to collect supporting signatures of at least four per cent of voters in the voter lists in the single-member district where they wish to stand (or in a given country when running for a single-member district abroad), but no less than 2,000 signatures for the Chamber of Deputies and 4,000 signatures for the Senate. ...
The requirement of both a deposit and supporting signatures for the registration of independent candidates is unduly excessive, thus not in line with the OSCE commitments.
... The requirement of both a deposit and support signatures for independent candidates is excessive, limits the opportunity for participation, and is at odds with Paragraph 7.5 of the 1990 OSCE Copenhagen Document and other international standards

The last report also puts under criticism the practice of requiring voters to support exactly one candidate:

... A voter can only give his/her signature in support of one prospective independent candidate for either chamber of the parliament.
The legal framework should be amended to allow voters to sign in support of more than one prospective electoral contestant to further promote pluralism.

  • I don't see how this answers the question. The question is about whether public nomination signatures are compatible with a secret ballot, not an invitation to explain why you disagree with public nomination signatures. – David Richerby Apr 3 at 12:41
  • @DavidRicherby Paragraphs 1, 3, 4, and 5 directly address issues with a secret ballot. The rest of the answer covers related issues with unnecessarily high signature-gathering requirements. As a matter of fact, I don't really disagree with signature-gathering in general. – default locale Apr 3 at 12:48
  • @DavidRicherby I've rearranged the first part of my answer to concentrate it more on compatibility with a secret ballot. The criticism at the end is relevant, as it illustrates the problem with excessive signature-gathering requirements in general, even though it doesn't address the issues with a secret ballot in particular. – default locale Apr 3 at 13:18
  • OK but it still seems that your answer is "It doesn't have much effect on secrecy when only a small number of people have to sign publicly, because they'll be people who everybody 'knows' will vote for that party anyway", plus ten paragraphs on why signed nominations are bad. The question only asks about the first part. – David Richerby Apr 3 at 13:30
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    OK -- no worries. Glad we both understand each other's positions. :) – David Richerby Apr 3 at 15:37
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The first step, signing that you support the party in question being on the ballot, happens months ahead of the actual vote. There are numerous deadlines (at least in Germany; I assume similar systems all across Europe) that need to be met for submitting candidates, acquiring these signatures and getting the list approved. In Germany, the ballot for the European election (end of May) is now (early April) already known as the Bundeswahlleiter has decided on the validity of each list last month and any objections to his decisions have already been ruled on (also in March iirc). This means that the signature-collecting will happen a good 4 or 5 months prior to election day.

As everybody who follows election opinion polls knows, people’s opinions tend to change significantly in much shorter timeframes. When Martin Schulz was announced chancellor candidate by the SPD in Germany in 2017, the polling share of that party rose by almost 10 % within a week or two. Nobody expects anybody to keep the same opinion over multiple months between signing that the party should be on the ballot to the actual election day.

Of course, the signature is merely for ‘I support this party being on the ballot’. There is no second clause that I will also vote for them. Due to the idea of a secret ballot, nobody can confirm or deny whether you did or did not vote for the party on election day.

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Because you are signing a petition to put someone on a ballot, but not committing to vote for them. As someone from a 2 party system (United States) and generally dislike both major parties for various reasons, I'm more than happy to get more votes onto a ballot and will likely sign for candidates in such a manner if offered. It doesn't mean I'm going to vote for them. Hell, I brag that I've voted in every election Presidential election since I was 18 and I have yet to vote for the same party twice. I'll refuse to tell you which time was a vote for which party, and you sure can't figure it out, but I voted for at least one winner, and voted against that same person. My metric is best candidate for the nation, not party politics... the terrible candidate in one election could be the best option in another.

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