How did voting by ballot come into practice?
The first VOTING BY BALLOT in Parliamentary elections was introduced by the Legislative Council of the Colony of Victoria under the Electoral Act which became law on 19 March 1856. Proposals to adopt a secret ballot had been rejected five years earlier by E. Deas Thomson, then Colonial Secretary, who said the very notion was ‘not only unconstitutional, but un-British’. The man who finally succeeded in securing its adoption was William Nicholson, a Cumberland grocer who had emigrated to Victoria in 1841, was Mayor of Melbourne in 1850, and was to be Premier of the Colony in 1859. His motion in favour of the secret ballot was carried by 33 votes to 25 on 18 December 1855 and in consequence the Government was obliged to resign. Although returned to office, they were forced to respond to the majority will and allow for the passage of the measure.
(The first Parliamentary election to be held by secret ballot was the General Election for the Victorian Legislative Council held on 27 August 1856). In the meantime, South Australia had introduced its own ballot law, which received the Governor’s Assent on 2 April 1856, and the other Australian colonies followed suit—New South Wales and Tasmania in 1858, Queensland in 1859, and Western Australia somewhat tardily in 1879. The first American State to adopt the Australian system was Massachusetts in 1888.
In Britain voting by ballot was introduced by Act on 13 July 1872. The first Parliamentary election held under the provisions of the Act took place at Pontefract on 15 August 1872, when H.E. Childers was re-elected ‘very peacefully’. The first use of the secret ballot in a General Election was in 1874. Despite the fact that there was no longer compulsion to vote as directed by squire or landlord, the former Liberal majority of 112 was converted into a Conservative majority of 48.