With the passage of the Gabinian Law in 139 B.C. the verbal voting system that had been used in Roman electoral assemblies was replaced by the secret ballot. This paper will consider the motives behind the introduction of the secret ballot at Rome, and the relative influence of open and secret voting on Roman politics.
Modern scholars have tended to view the passage of the Gabinian Law as a popular measure intended to free the Roman masses from the scrutiny and pressure of the senatorial aristocracy. This paper argues instead that the ballot reform was motivated by the interests of narrower section of the Roman electorate: the class from whom public contractors, the publicani, were drawn. The expansion of Rome's empire during the second century B.C. saw the growth of conflict between senatorial governors and these publicani over the administration Rome's newly acquired provinces. This paper will argue that the publicani sponsored the introduction of the secret ballot so that they could elect candidates for high office who were favourable to their interests, without fear of political reprisals from hostile senators.
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