Gongol.com Archives: April 2024

Brian Gongol

April 18, 2024

News Juror identities and secret ballots

While Americans are fairly well-versed in the importance of the secret ballot, it's worth reiterating why individuals have an interest in keeping their own ballots secret, even when they're proud to support a candidate or a party. Ballot secrecy is important, even for the proud, because we cannot distinguish the ballot photo shared out of pride from the ballot photo shared out of coercion. ■ An abusive spouse, a bad boss, or a crooked union steward might compel another person to wear a lapel pin, apply a bumper sticker, or show up at a rally. Those are bad circumstances, to be sure, but if the ballot is always kept completely secret, then the individual's conscience should always be secure to prevail where it ultimately matters the most. Laws can only go so far -- social norms have to play a part, too. ■ Likewise, the anonymity of the jury is a vital public interest, and one that can only be maintained through a combination of laws and habits. Just as it's understandable that individual voters might be excited to show off their ballots, it's understandable that intrepid reporters might be eager to report on the makeup of a "jury of one's peers". ■ But it's just as important for a jury to maintain secrecy as for a ballot to be kept under wraps, and for similar reasons. If a crooked prosecutor, an unhinged defendant, or a compromised witness wanted to influence the outcome of a trial, they could cause trouble in all sorts of ways. But anonymity provides at least some defensive moat against that kind of compulsion. ■ A handful of journalists have already said far too much about the jury pool in the New York trial of a former President. They have revealed information sufficient enough to narrow down individual juror identities to small numbers -- with descriptions that might only apply to a dozen individuals. Those reporters should stop -- not because the law compels them, but because norms should.

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