Removing the black curtains from voting booths (see related story) seems like a reasonable way to combat vote-buying, using cell phone photos taken of filled-in ballots as invoices. The practice is believed to have been prevalent in St. Maarten in the recent past.

Use of electronic devices inside the booths was subsequently prohibited, but without active enforcement compliance could not really be checked. The option of temporarily holding on to mobiles while their owners go to the polls was rightly considered a can of worms regarding legal responsibility.

Removal of the curtains had been suggested earlier as well, but for some reason never materialised. With one year to go before the next scheduled election, this adjustment can now possibly still be implemented before then.

A word of caution is in order, however. Confidentiality obviously remains crucial to a free vote and may never be compromised, especially in a small community where most everyone knows each other.

The latter is also a main reason why the process to support candidate lists of “new” parties to qualify them for the ballot was changed. Before, people stood in lines of a particular party for all to see, which – even if that did not mean they would also vote for them in the election – made many uncomfortable.

Without curtains, authorities must therefore see to it that the booth’s three walls indeed offer sufficient coverage, so this very private act does not become visible to others. Perhaps polling station staff could – for example – advise voters to keep their back squarely towards the outside, certainly the first time.

Such safeguards are desirable to prevent electoral transparency from turning into scaring people away from the polls. In any self-respecting democracy, the secret vote is non-negotiable.

The Daily Herald

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