AskDefine | Define blackballing

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. present participle of blackball

Extensive Definition

Blackballing was a technique used in elections to elect a member of a gentlemen's club (as well as similarly organised institutions such as Freemasonry and fraternities). The principle of such a club was that it was self-perpetuating; i.e., new members could only be elected by existing members. This was to ensure that new members were congenial to the old members, which helped to preserve the ethos (and exclusivity) of the club. The term is also used as a synonym to blacklist.


The favoured method of election was by the ballot box, which was a wooden box into which those participating in the election placed a small ball or ballot. A white ball signified support; a black ball signified opposition. The box was usually designed so that observers could not see how the voter was voting; it was all done under cover of the box, or of a combination of a cloth and the box itself, this being the origin of the secret ballot.
Different voting systems applied from club to club and from time to time: thus, in some cases even a single black ball would be fatal to the candidate's election, whilst, in larger clubs, rules were put in place to ensure that a single person could not exercise a right of veto to the detriment of the future of the club. Robert's Rules of Order notes that the use of black and white balls can be ordered by passing an incidental motion to that effect. The manual notes, "This custom, however, is apparently declining."
In many fraternal organizations, such as the Masons, a black cube is used instead of a black ball so that a black ball can be differentiated from a dirty white ball, as the lighting in the meeting hall is very dim during voting. The following example from the rules of election to the Travellers Club, which is quoted from Dickens's Dictionary of London (1879), provides an illustration of the principle:
" The members elect by ballot. When 12 and under 18 members ballot, one black ball, if repeated, shall exclude; if 18 and upwards ballot, two black balls exclude, and the ballot cannot be repeated. The presence of 12 members is necessary for a ballot. "
The origins of the blackball lie in ancient Greece, where people were excluded by use of the ostrakhon (shell or potsherd) as a ballot in voting: see ostracize.


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