To Maesius Maximus
You must have often read about the fierce controversy roused by the Ballot Act, and the mixed praise and blame it brought its proposer; yet today the merits of the act have won the unanimous approval of the Senate. On the day of the recent elections everyone demanded voting-papers, for on the last occasions when we had publicly recorded our votes aloud we had certainly exceeded the disorders of the people's assemblies. No regard was paid to a time-limit in speaking, to the courtesy of not interrupting, nor even the propriety of remaining seated. On all sides rose the din of opposing cries: everyone rushed forward with his candidate and crowds mingled with small groups of people in the centre of the floor in disgraceful confusion. So far had we departed from our parents' procedure, where everything was calmly conducted in a restrained and orderly manner so as to maintain the honour and dignity of the House.
There are still some of the older generation living who have often told me about their election procedure: the name of the candidate was read out and received in complete silence, after which he spoke on his own behalf, gave an account of his career and produced references to his character, either the commanding officer under whom he had served in the army or the governor whose questor he had been, and both if he could. He then called upon some of the electors supporting his candidature, who said a few sober words in his favour which carried more weight than entreaties. Sometimes the candidate would raise objections to his opponent's origin, age or character, and the Senate would hear him with strict attention. The result was that merit prevailed more often than mere popularity. But now that these practices have broken down through excessive personal influence, recourse was had to the secret ballot as a remedy, and, being a new and unaccustomed measure, for the time being it has proved successful. Yet I am afraid that as time goes on the remedy will breed its own abuses, with the risk of wanton irresponsibility finding a way in. Very few people are as scrupulously honest in secret as in public, and many are influenced by public opinion but scarcely anyone by conscience. It is too soon, though, to speak of the future; for the moment, thanks to the written vote, we are going to elect our public officials from the candidates who best deserve the honour. We have been called upon to pronounce an opinion in our elections with no more warning than is given at a summary trial, and have shown ourselves uncorrupted.
To Maesius Maximus
I told you in my last letter that there was a risk of the secret ballot's leading to abuses, and this has already happened. At the recent election some of the voting papers were found to have jokes and obscenities scribbled on them, and on one the names of the candidates were replaced by those of their sponsors. This incensed the Senate and members clamoured for the wrath of the Emperor to be visited on the culprit; but he kept quiet and undetected -- he may even have joined in the general indignation. If this man can play such ribbald tricks in an important matter on a serious occasion, and thinks the Senate is the place where he can pass for a nimble wit and a fine fellow, what are we to suppose his personal conduct can be? This is the confidence unprincipled characters derive from the assurance that 'No one will know'. This man could ask for a voting-paper, take a pen, and bend his head to write, with neither fear of anyone nor any self-respect. The result was that ribaldry fit for nothing but the vulgar stage. Where is one to turn in search of a remedy? Everywhere the disease has gone too far to be checked. 'But this will concern the power above' whose daily task of vigilance is greatly increased by the futile impudence in our midst which we cannot control.
The Letters of the Younger Pliny (translation Radice), pages 106-7 and 129-30.