Documenting Democracy
Australia's Story

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p1 | p4 | p10 | p11 | p12 | p13 | p14 | p27
Electoral Act 1856 (Vic)
Electoral Act 1856 (Vic), p1
Electoral Act 1856 (Vic), p4
Electoral Act 1856 (Vic), p10
Electoral Act 1856 (Vic), p11
Electoral Act 1856 (Vic), p12
Electoral Act 1856 (Vic), p13
Electoral Act 1856 (Vic), p14
Electoral Act 1856 (Vic), p27
This document made Victoria the first Australian Colony (and the first legislature anywhere in the world) to adopt the practice of the secret ballot, as opposed to open voting. Only the Assent date of 19 March, when this Act became law, gives Victoria the lead however. South Australia's William Boothby is recognised as the pioneer of the secret ballot, as South Australia enacted a similar law two weeks later, on 2 April 1856.
The introduction of secret ballot was one of the measures whereby Victorians democratised their Parliament. The measures that followed were manhood suffrage (1857), abolition of property qualifications for members of the Legislative Assembly (1857), elections every three years (1859), and the Payment of Members Act (1870).

The Electoral Act 1856 passed through Parliament (with a one vote majority) on 13 March 1856, and received the Governor's Assent on 19 March. Victoria thus became the first Australian colony, and the first legislature anywhere in the world, to adopt the practice of the secret ballot, as opposed to open voting. The arguments for the practice – designed to protect electors from pressure and recrimination – had been discussed in Britain, but secret voting was not adopted there until later.

When secret voting was later adopted in the United States, it was called 'the Australian ballot'.
This document has the signatures of Major-General (Sir) Edward Macarthur, the Governor and Major-General of Victoria, and of the Speaker of the House and the Clerk of the Legislative Council on page 27.

Detail from the title page of the Electoral Act 1856 (Vic).

Detail from the title page of the Electoral Act 1856 (Vic).

Long Title:An Act to provide for the Election of Members to serve in the Legislative Council and Legislative Assembly of Victoria
No. of pages:28 (pages shown here are: 1, 4, 10–14, 27)
Medium:Bound in volume
Measurements:29.5 x 42 cm
Provenance:Parliament of Victoria
Features:The Victorian Parliament created three copies of Acts for Royal Assent. One of these was forwarded to the Clerk of Parliament, one to the Governor and the other to the Victorian Supreme Court. This document states that it was enrolled in the office of the Registrar of the Supreme Court of the Colony of Victoria on 26 March 1856. The Supreme Court copy was originally received by the Registrar and then transferred for storage to the vaults of the Titles Office as there was not enough room to store the Acts at the court.
Location & Copyright:Supreme Court of Victoria
Reference:19 Vic. No. 12