POLYAS Election Glossary

We provide explanations and background information on elections, voting rights and digital democracy

Open Ballot System

The term “open ballot system” is used to describe votes in which participant’s choices are not confidential. It is the opposite of a secret ballot. In most legislatures around the world, elected representatives vote on proposed legislation using an open ballot system, which is often done by members of parliament simply assembling on opposing sides of the chamber. One side represents the “no” vote and the other the “yes” vote. This system is widespread in politics as it enables voters to hold their representatives to account on what they voted for and against. 

However, the use of the open ballot system is more controversial in the context of elections themselves, such as in Nigeria. Proponents of the system point to the fact that it means the ballot box cannot be tampered with in the way an anonymous election can. On the other hand, by foregoing the secrecy of the ballot, voters may be intimidated into voting a certain way which might be different from how they would actually vote if allowed to do so anonymously.

See also: Ballot Box, Ballot Box Election, Legislature

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