As Congress has been deliberating legislation that would give Washington residents representation in the House of Representatives, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Democrats have touted this effort as a defense of democracy bill. Ironically enough, they are making this argument at the same time they are driving an effort to take away one of our most fundamental and sacred expressions of our democracy: the right to a private vote.
The one hand giveth; the other hand taketh away.
The secret ballot is the cornerstone of how our democracy works. It is the right to vote your conscience — without fear of retribution, intimidation or bribery.
It is at best hypocritical for Democrats to claim that the secret ballot process is not good enough for the workers who are deciding if a labor union should represent them at their workplace. These workers are the foundation of our nation’s prosperity, and yet the Democrats want to deny them one of our most fundamental rights: a vote free from fear and undue influence.
First used in Ancient Greece, secret ballots were used to keep people from seeking favors. Later established in France in 1848, Australia in 1854 and Britain in 1872, the secret ballot has become the foundation of a free and open election process. In his rise to dictator during the fall of the Republic, as one of his first acts, Napoleon Bonaparte abolished the secret ballot in France.
Winston Churchill extolled the value of the secret ballot in his Iron Curtain speech in 1946, saying, “All this means that the people of any country have the right, and should have the power by constitutional action, by free unfettered elections, with secret ballot, to choose or change the character or form of government under which they dwell.”
The 1972 Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern wrote in The Wall Street Journal that “voting is an immense privilege. … As a longtime friend of labor unions, I must raise my voice against pending legislation I see as a disturbing and undemocratic overreach not in the interest of either management or labor.”
This history is both forgotten and ignored as congressional Democrats plan to soon call for a House vote on the deceivingly titled Employee Free Choice Act. Under current law, union elections can be held by private or by public vote, known as card check. Should this bill become law, a private vote will no longer be an option.
Workers will be exposed to possible intimidation tactics and outright bribery. Union representatives will be able to lobby employees outside of the workplace to gather signatures or votes. Elections will be held open as long as it takes to secure the appropriate number of votes.
In 2001, Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), author of the Employee Free Choice Act and chairman of the House Committee on Education and Labor, led 15 Democratic members of Congress in signing a letter urging “the use [of] the secret ballot in all union recognition elections” — and stating that “the secret ballot is absolutely necessary in order to ensure that workers are not intimidated into voting for a union they might not otherwise choose” — because they were so concerned with protecting workers from intimidation. However, that letter was addressed not to then-U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao but to Mexican labor officials. The employees they were trying to protect were not American, but Mexican, workers — with the Mexican Supreme Court ruling to protect the secret ballot process.
This assault on our democracy is outrageous and promotes the kind of election corruption we are supposed to fight against. Preserving and protecting our fundamental right to a vote free of harassment is an obligation that springs from our national conscience. All this bill does is send the message that the value of a secret ballot is good enough for other countries and good enough for Democrats in Congress but not good enough for American workers.
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) is the ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.