Monday, January 12, 2009

Goldwater Institute: Will civil libertarians defend the secret ballot?

by Clint Bolick

“[W]e feel that the secret ballot is absolutely necessary in order to ensure that workers are not intimidated into voting for a union they might not otherwise choose.” So wrote Rep. George Miller (D-CA) and 15 colleagues in a 2001 letter to the Mexican government.

Why then is Miller sponsoring legislation now—the Orwellian-named “Employee Free Choice Act”—that would eliminate the secret ballot for authorizing union representation in this country?

Under the “card-check” system, a union is recognized if a certain percentage of employees sign cards designating a union. In contrast to the privacy of the secret ballot, a card-check system invites intimidation. That is why Rep. Hilda Solis (D-CA), President-elect Barack Obama’s choice for Secretary of Labor, protested the lack of a secret ballot in leadership elections for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus in 2007. Yet, she too now backs the card-check system.

No less a champion of unions than former Senator George McGovern has proclaimed that it’s “hard to believe that any politicians would agree to denying millions of employees the right to a private vote.”

It’s understandable that unions, which have hemorrhaged millions of members, would prefer coercion to private choice. But where will groups like the American Civil Liberties Union, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, and People for the American Way come down? After all, few things are more central to the American way than voting by secret ballot.

I have helped draft a proposed amendment to state constitutions, including Arizona’s, that would protect the right to secret ballot. Will civil libertarians join me in championing it?

Clint Bolick is the director of the Goldwater Institute Scharf-Norton Center for Constitutional Litigation.

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