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28 May 2015

How a liberal MP introduced the ballot box in the City of London

In December 1837, the Fife Herald noted that it had been sent a “model of Mr Grote’s balloting box, which has been exhibited at many public meetings”.

By Stephen Brasher

The City of London elected four MPs to the House of Commons until 1885. George Grote was elected as one of four Liberals in 1832, serving until 1841. Grote – a philosopher radical who once gave money to Auguste Comte, the French founder of sociology – introduced an annual bill to parliament for the provision of the (secret) ballot.

In December 1837, the Fife Herald noted that it had been sent a “model of Mr Grote’s balloting box, which has been exhibited at many public meetings”. The Newcastle Journal called it the “rat-trap ballot box”: voters had to punch the card with a piece of metal and then press a button so that the card fell into the box. The newspaper felt that this would disenfranchise the illiterate and the blind and, as such, “It will never do.”

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