Secrecy in Voting Today? Not so secret?

When you vote in national, state and local elections, you go into the booth confident that no-one will know who you voted for. It’s a secret.
Today, we look upon that secret ballot as an integral, almost sacred, element of voting. Robert Dahl wrote that “secrecy has become the general standard; a country in which it is widely violated would be judged as lacking free and fair elections.”(Dahl, On Democracy, 1998: 96) 
We assume there has always been a secret ballot and Americans have always voted secretly. That is, until we dig a little deeper….
Today, some votes are not secret — those of our elected representatives. And nor would we want them to be secret: we demand to know how “our” representatives vote because those representatives are accountable to us. This connection — between secrecy and accountability — turns out to be more important than we might have imagined (see essay entitled “Secrecy in Voting in American History: No Secrets There.”  
Taking a closer look, we can also see exceptions to secrecy in the electoral behavior of the citizenry every day and all around us. For instance, many of us don’t wish to keep our voting intentions secret. We delight in revealing our political votes and views to all and sundry. Millions of us attach bumper stickers to our cars, visually proclaiming to one and all our party preference, our candidate choices, and our policy positions on every imaginable issue; we use bumper stickers before elections to tell everyone on the road with us how we are going to vote. We pound yard signs into the lawn in front of our homes, associating our political views with our place of residence and our neighborhood: yard signs are literally much closer to home, and far more revelatory than a bumper sticker on an anonymous car speeding by! 
Other breaches of secrecy in political matters are imposed on us — and, surprisingly, we accept them. In 20 states, citizens must declare their political affiliation and register with a party in order to cast a vote in the state’s primary elections for members of Congress [see article]. Another 16 states use closed or semi-closed primaries, only some of which allow independent or unaffiliated voters to participate. In only 14 states (Alabama, Arkansas, California, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin) are citizens able to vote in primary elections for Congress without being required to declare a partisan affiliation. The number of states using open primaries in presidential elections is slightly higher at 17. [see article]. Everywhere else the state, by law, is able to require us to reveal our partisan affiliation in order to vote in the primary elections held by parties.
Why does this matter? In part, because in so many places the power of incumbency is pervasive: in the 2014 election 90 percent of seats in the US House of Representatives were considered “safe” for the incumbent [see article]; at least 85 percent of incumbents have been returned to office in every congressional election over the last half century. In 2012, only six of 435 Congressional seats changed party hands; in the much-vaunted “wave” 2014 election, 19 of 435 House seats switched parties. The overwhelming majority of House districts are essentially one-party places where the primary election within the dominant party is far more important than the general election in determining who “our” representative will be. 
Today’s technologies also erode political secrecy by enabling the stealthy discovery of partisan affiliations. This begins with some surprising public records: counties publish the names and addresses of all registered votes in their jurisdiction (including, in most states, party affiliation), which you may access, usually for a fee. In addition — in this era of mail-in-ballots — it is possible to obtain a list of registered voters who have lodged a postal vote, allowing pressure to be put on those who have not yet voted [see article]. In the past, hard copies of these records were vital documents for political operatives. Now “scrubbed” versions of state registration lists are sold by private companies in the form of software or internet applications [see article]. 
Our postings on Facebook and other social media have delivered (if the user does not actively prevent it) a new treasure trove of political information, giving operatives the opportunity to deploy complex social network algorithms to send tailored political advertising to individual users. Social media commentators credit Facebook with employing some of the “best data scientists in the world” [ see article ]. Not surprisingly, social media postings have become the “third force” in political mass persuasion, alongside real news and paid advertisements.
In the run-up to the 2014 elections, “both parties have spent … two years scrubbing their voter files and other consumer data, trying to match specific persuadable supporters with their specific web habits” [ see article ]. Vast back-room data operations further develop the party’s “ground game” by comparing (with your permission) your Facebook friends list to registration lists so that you can be urged to electronically “guilt-trip” your friends into registering and voting [ see article ]. The high-tech use of data expands every election: sending friends to knock on the doors of other friends with political messages and targeted door stop-spiels developed from research into on-line searches. If you live in a tightly contested place, partisan foot soldiers now arrive at your door to urge you to vote the way they know you are likely to vote [ see article ]. This happens because operatives have the data to operationalize a fundamental political truism: you are most likely to believe what your friends and neighbors tell you [ see article ].  
If you wish to keep your voting intentions secret it can be done – but it requires restraint and care. Any breeches of overall secrecy, of course, take place outside the voting booth: inside, and in that space alone, your actual voting choices become your secret, to be revealed or not – it’s up to you.