Secret Ballots: The Future of DAOs?

May 24, 2023

In governance and voting the idea of a secret ballot is not a new idea. By keeping the votes of others secret while the voting process is ongoing, you avoid individuals being influenced by the votes cast by others. In DAO governance we have seen this multiple times, where after an early lead or whale vote towards a proposal many other votes the same way assuming that the majority must have “done their research”.

This is not a new problem. The modern “secret ballot” was introduced in 1856 in the Australian states: Victoria and South Australia. Through the Ballot Act of 1872 it became the adopted voting standard throughout Australia. Closer to home, the United States implemented the secret ballot extensively after the 1884 presidential election. The secret ballot is universally viewed as a method of discouraging intimidation and threats, shields voters from possible victimization and it tends to discourage voter apathy.

In DAO governance there is a recent trend to move to secret ballot. Snapshot introduced this feature in July of 2022. One of their main arguments for the introduction was to address voter apathy.

Secret ballot adoption in DAO governance

Up until quite recently there has been little movement in DAOs using secret ballots in their governance, however over the last couple of weeks this has been changing.

ApeCoin changed their Snapshot settings to only show the “Abstain” vote after the conclusion of the vote itself. With this setting, you can still see the total vote “For” and “Against” with the total number of abstaining votes revealed after the conclusion of the vote. The reason behind this change is to increase voter participation. Based on early results it seems to be working. @red_vulkan published the below statistics showing a large decrease in the number of abstaining voters. Users are more incentivized to vote.

Echelon Prime went one step further. In the beginning of May 2023, the DAO held a vote enquiring whether they should move to a secret ballot which was met with overwhelming approval by the community.

Though no vote has taken place as of this movement with the secret vote in effect, it is expected to increase voter participation.

Why does secret ballot increase voter participation?

There are a number of reasons for this. When you proceed to cast your vote and see that most individuals have already voted in favor, you are inclined to decide that your vote would not make a difference and therefore elect not to cast your vote. This leads to decreased participation and less community involvement.

When you know that you only have 100 votes and the “in favor” vote is ahead by 100,000, you might feel that your vote will not change the result and therefore elect not to participate. The problem with this is that there is likely 100’s of other voters who feel the same way. I fall of them voted, the net effect would have been to change the result of the vote. Secret Ballot increases the chance of this occurring with the result of a better governed DAO, one which to a greater extent, reflects the collective vision of the DAO members.

Additionally, it avoids situations where everyone just votes in line with the majority or votes abstain as the vote is already largely in favor of one option. This leads to greater community consensus on any decision and increases user participation in the DAO itself. This serves as a balance check where a few users are making most decisions.

If you do not know what the current state of the vote is, your vote could also have a significant impact. A secret ballot will likely lead to cases where a single vote, or very small number of votes, sways a decision. Just as a single vote can change the result of an election, secret ballots allow minor holders greater power in elections as they are less likely to be discouraged from voting.


DAO governance is an iterative process. Experimentation is and should be welcomed. Just as we moved between different governance methods throughout history discarding certain elements and bringing in new elements, this process will play out in DAO’s over the next several years as we, collectively, we’ll learn what works and what doesn’t work.

In the end, the hope is that secret ballots will generate more community involvement and better governance where community members feel they have a say in the vote and participation levels are higher.

And lets be honest, a vote is much more fun to watch when you see the result at the conclusion of voting versus being able to see exactly what the result will be days or weeks in advance.