1st December 1891

Jersey holds its first election by secret ballot

We take it for granted that any vote we cast in an election will be done in the privacy of a voting booth, but that wasn’t always true. On 1 December 1891, Jersey held its first election of Centeniers in which each elector’s vote was kept private. It had been a long time coming: the law introducing secret ballots had been passed more than ten months earlier, on 26 January 1891.

As a result, reported the Jersey Times, “this election will necessarily be referred to on more than one occasion, as it will never lose its importance as the first break in an electoral system so open to coercion, jobbery, bribery and humbug…”

Trials in the parishes

Although this is considered Jersey’s first real election to use a secret ballot, technically it had been preceded by two others in the country parishes. However, as only one candidate stood in each of those, there was no need for votes to be cast and counted, so the 1 December election, which took place in St Helier, was the first for which the law was truly put into practice.

The poll opened at 11am on a fine, clear day, and voting took place in Halkett Place until five past four when, as nobody else seemed to be turning up, the polling place was closed. Two voting booths had been set up: one for electors with initials A to L and a second for everyone else. The first vote was cast by the constable of St Helier.

Two seats expired

The election had been called when the two seats occupied by George Renouf and Francis Bossy reached the end of their terms and thus were eligible to be contested once more. Renouf didn’t stand for re-election, so the residents of St Helier had to choose which of Bossy, Francis Cavey or Frederick Lihou de Carteret would be unsuccessful in winning one of the two seats.

Bossy and Cavey came first and second with 553 and 537 votes respectively. Twenty-five voting papers were declared void. De Carteret attracted just 474 votes which, papers speculated, may have been because he was supported by the temperance movement and there was a suspicion that he may therefore have been a one-policy candidate. “There are doubtless many electors who would have preferred a gentleman of the intelligence and position of Mr de Carteret to a candidate of very unknown quantity like Mr Cavey,” wrote the Jersey Times, “but they had to vote for the latter to keep the former out, by way of teaching the Temperance party that when a candidate is put forward not unreservedly on his own merits, but strictly as their own candidate, the answer must be – ‘We are not taking any to-day, thank you’.”


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Other events that occured in December