Vatican secret ballots aren’t democratic?

Vatican secret ballots aren’t democratic? March 14, 2013

Friends, I took a nasty fall a couple of days ago and have seriously injured my ankle. It’s not broken, but the ligament is barely hanging on to the ankle.

Or so the doc says.

Anyway, I’m hopped up on Percocet and it’s surprisingly difficult to get work done between the pain and the painkillers. You’ll be hearing from me in small doses for a few days.

I was able to follow the coverage of the new pope — on Twitter, at least — and found it all fascinating.

What do you think of these two tweets from New York Times Vatican reporter Rachel Donadio?

Wait for it.

This just in: Popes are elected behind closed doors in a meeting — shaped by centuries of church tradition — called a “conclave.”

Obviously democracies don’t require secret ballots but it didn’t occur to me that secret ballots were viewed by some as undemocratic. I wonder if this extends to all those countries with secret ballots.

Democracy image via Shutterstock.

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14 responses to “Vatican secret ballots aren’t democratic?”

  1. Maybe she means that the ballots are “secret” in that the figures are not revealed?

    • Also, in many “republic” type of voting bodies, a senate for instance, which the college of cardinals somewhat resembles, the voting is often done by roll call, or acclamation, or by show of hands, in a public way.

      No fan of the NYT here, but I think Donadio probably didn’t mean that who-votes-for-whom being secret in principle is undemocratic. Twitter is notoriously unclear – soundbites are never really enough. So I’m willing to give the benefit of the doubt until she expresses herself more completely.

  2. WOW I always assume my votes for mayor or president are “secret”.

    She must be equating the College of Cardinals to a legislature that has constituencies. Apples & oranges.
    Cardinals aren’t elected and are not expected to represent the areas they come from. They are supposed to choose who they think will be best for the entire church.

  3. Mollie, I’m very sorry to hear you are hurt. Prayers and best wishes for your recovery!

    Now, as to “undemocratic” secret ballots. Oh yeah, it’s so terrible that votes are cast in secret and the press and television reporters are not permitted to be there to broadcast that Cardinal Smith of Walla-Walla voted for the Flemish candidate, while Cardinal Martinez voted for the guy from Papua New Guinea – oh, wait, this is not a political election!

    Also, every time I go to exercise my franchise, the returning officer makes sure to read aloud which candidates in what order I voted for, so everyone knows who and how I voted – oh, wait, no they don’t!

    Guess that makes Irish elections “undemocratic”, hmmmm?

  4. I know you have civics classes (or whatever name they are known by in America) in your schools, so I know that children are taught why the ballot is secret. Do we really have to explain how the voting process as it currently exists came into being?

    Seems like we do. Okay, come with me back to the 18th century. There was no secret ballot until 1872, and there was a property requirement to be qualified to vote. Voting was done in public, so if your landlord (for instance) had a candidate standing for election, let’s just say the tenants voted so that this was the man who was returned.

    Bribery, coercion and vote-buying were in full swing. This is why secret ballots were introduced. And, for much the same reasons, this is why the conclave is held in conditions of such secrecy. Yes, in previous centuries, cardinals were expected to vote for the preferred candidate of the king of whatever nation they came from; votes were bought openly; all kinds of inducements and pressures were brought to bear. This is why eventually it was decided – cardinals to be in seclusion, no discussion or outside communication, no revelation of who the other (losing) candidates were or by how much or how many ballots the winner was elected.

    It’s a bit much when an institution that was voting for its leader before America was even discovered, much less the rise and spread of democracy, is twitted (or twittered?) for being “undemocratic”!

  5. In the US they did away with property requirements virtually everywhere if not everywhere by 1860 and in most places by the 1830s if not before that. Interestingly enough ending property requirements reduced the ability of African-Americans and women to vote in some areas (OK, the later was just New Jersey, but still). However it was not until the late 19th century that the secret ballot was adopted in the US.

    I have actually read some attacks on some places for not having had secret ballots, and claims that they were undemocratic because of it, but these also tend to be religiously-biased attempts to malign specific religious groups for having supposedly been behind the Democracy curve, when in fact they did the outer proceeding of voting just like everyone else.

  6. Mollie, I don’t know how you are going to give that ankle the rest it needs, with the other things you have to take care of! But I pray you will heal in God’s good time.

    I don’t “do” the social media. It cracks me up to read how silly some remarks can be!

  7. Mollie, I did something similar to my ankle as a kid. (A see-saw was involved.) I encourage you to relearn to hop on one foot, because it will be very useful in the first few days.

    • I’ve been doing a fair amount of that — as well as learning how to use crutches. Also, I’ve tried to keep it elevated for more than 48 hours now. I know I messed it up really bad and I know I have to get it healed if I want to continue working out and chasing toddlers …

  8. In the ideal democracy, the votes of individual citizens should be secret in order to protect the citizen. The votes of politicians, on the other hand, should be public so that they can be held accountable. With this in mind, Donadio makes a valid point if one considers the cardinals as being akin to politicians (which is certainly a better analogy than treating them as the kind of individual citizens who need the protection of the secret ballot). In that view, the conclave becomes akin to the “smoke-filled room” of bygone political conventions. On the other hand, it’s also a valid point that the analogy is flawed because the conclave’s purpose is more pastoral than political.

    • Agreed. Also, in an ideal democracy, while individual votes are secret, the exact numbers and percentages of votes for each candidate are known. There is also oversight from impartial third parties. While I don’t consider it a fair CRITICISM of the Catholic church (which certainly has never claimed to be a democracy), I do think it is a fair STATEMENT to say that their methods of choosing a new pope aren’t in line with democratic “best practices.”

  9. The BBC has a bit about how the US should learn from the Conclave process on how to have a clean and quick election. Quite interesting, if a bit of a facile comparison.

    There are three interesting bits to me in this question. First, the issue of permanence. The cardinals have elected somebody to be pope (presumably) for the rest of his life- potentially for decades- and they did so in a matter of days. Yet the Italian politicians seem unable to put together a coalition to try to last through the summer, despite weeks of trying.

    Second is this: perhaps the main reason that the cardinals were able to agree so quickly compared to the secular politicians is that they have a fundamental unity in faith and purpose that is utterly lacking in the secular world. Of course the media cannot fathom the idea of unity, so they exaggerate any differences, but the distance between factions among the cardinals is nothing compared to that between political parties.

    Finally as to the matter of “secret voting”, we Americans tend to forget things like the fact that the only reason the Constitutional Convention was able to function was that it was conducted in secret. Having every vote counted and displayed, and a scoreboard constantly updated with who voted against you and how many points you’ve won or lost- these are the kind of sports mentality that has driven at least American politics into our current state of “no compromise and no surrender” as one congressman put it.

  10. Actually, it appears that Bergoglio was elected at least partially because there were Cardinal factions who would vote for anybody but Scola.

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