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Full text of "Reclaiming the ballot"

RECLAIMING 
THE BALLOT 



UC-NRLF 




WARD MACAULEY 



RECLAIMING THE BALLOT 



RECLAIMING 
THE BALLOT 



BY 



WARD MACAULEY 



AUTHOR OF 
CHEAP turkey" etc. 




NEW YORK 

DUFFIELD AND COMPANY 

1916 



^^^'' 



Copyright, 1916, by 
DUFFIELD AND COMPANY 



CONTENTS 



PAGE 



I. The Bulwark of Our Liberties .... i 

II. Campaign Methods 7 

III. Inefficient Citizens 27 

IV. Defeating the People's Will 48 

V. Urgent Need of Ballot Reform . . , 6^ 

VI. Conservative Reform 83 

VII. The Precinct Civic Center ..... 91 



342ii;^2 



RECLAIMING THE BALLOT 



RECLAIMING THE 
BALLOT 

CHAPTER I 

THE BULWARK OF OUR LIBERTIES 

THE bulwark of our liberties consists of 
a small iron box. Into this cage several 
hundred men are crammed in the course of 
one short day. Inside this little iron box, 
the men of America exercise the greatest 
right they have, the right of the free ballot. 
Among a free people, the right to choose 
those who make and administer the laws 
should be their most precious possession. 
" Self-governing" we call ourselves. What 
is the theory of it all ? That by the unfet- 
tered and general use of the ballot, Ameri- 
cans choose from among themselves those 



2 Reclaiming the Ballot 

best fitted to hold legislative, executive and 
judicial positions. 

Considering the vital importance of the 
ballot, it would naturally be expected that 
every safeguard would be thrown around 
the process of voting. Quite the contrary 
seems to be the case. No American com- 
munity of which we are aware is willing to 
spend any considerable amount of money in 
giving the voter a proper polling place or in 
any sane effort to assure a correct counting 
of the ballots after they are cast. 

The chairman of an election commission 
once said of an approaching primary: 
*' Crooked work may be expected." Ex- 
pected! Not prevented, but expected! No 
steps were suggested to protect the ballot, 
no hint that the first rights of American cit- 
izens were to be violated. The expected 
crooked work was for the avowed purpose of 
defrauding the voter of his ballot and ren- 
dering another choice than the one he had 
made. A serious situation, surely, yet ac- 
cepted calmly enough. No one seemed 
greatly concerned about it. No one sug- 
gested that a determined body of men 



The Bulwark of Our Liberties 3 

should insist that their rights be respected. 
There was no thought of any preventive 
work of any sort. Merely this: "Crooked 
work may be expected." A prediction that 
should have aroused every man in the city 
was passed over as lightly as a baseball 
score. 

Had our voting processes been designed 
with the express purpose of their failing as 
completely as possible in registering an in- 
telligent public will, they could scarcely 
have accomplished it better. As will be 
shown later, the system of balloting and 
counting is broadly open to fraud. The 
safeguards of which our school text-books 
make so much ado are all too theoretical, 
and the fact remains that our voting proc- 
esses are entirely in the hands of profes- 
sional politicians to do with as they will. 
That they seldom will to detach themselves 
from office is sufficiently obvious. The old 
cry "Turn the rascals out" becomes a super- 
human feat when the rascals themselves 
count the votes. 

It is frequently asserted that all the evils 
of democracy would be corrected if only ev- 



4 Reclaiming the Ballot 

erybody would vote or could be compelled 
to do so. It is certain that the majority of 
men accept this statement as true. Charles 
Lamb wrote a number of essays to set forth 
the fallacy of certain current proverbial ex- 
pressions. This little book aims to show 
the fallacy of the view that a more general 
use of the suffrage will correct all existing 
evils, unless it is accompanied by urgent re- 
forms in our methods of campaigning and 
even more necessary improvements in our 
manner of casting and counting the ballots. 
It is founded on much study and first-hand 
examination of real conditions by the writer. 
The conditions set forth all actually exist 
and every incident mentioned during the 
argument has actually taken place. 

It should be self-evident that where an 
election board is crooked, a larger vote 
in that precinct will be conducive not of 
good, but of evil. . Revelations in Terre 
Haute, Indianapolis and elsewhere prove 
conclusively that a great deal of ballot 
thievery is going on. Other places, where 
prosecuting officials are complacent, are 
only more innocent in that they have not 



The Bulwark of Our Liberties J 

been found out, or, having been found 
out, the offenders have not been prose- 
cuted. 

Prosecuting officials who owe their posi- 
tions to professional ballot thieves are not 
likely to probe deeply into the elections 
that placed themselves in office. The 
crooked election board members safely 
locked in the election house can hold at 
defiance the entire precinct and work their 
nefarious will upon the ballots, without fear 
of any undesirable consequences from the 
higher-up officials whom they themselves 
have placed in power. The manner in which 
ballot thieves ply their business is set forth 
in a later chapter. The point just here is 
that under such conditions, a larger vote is 
absolutely powerless to remedy any faults 
in government. It may be that in your lo- 
cality the election conditions are good. It is 
probably true that they are not bad in every 
city, but while the opportunity lies so easily 
at hand, it is only a question of time before 
the ballot crooks will begin operations and 
by securing possession of the prosecutor's 
office entrench themselves in the govern- 



6 Reclaiming the Ballot 

ment, and a carnival of extravagance and 
graft will inevitably result. 

Many ballots are cast in crass ignorance of 
the merits of the candidates or the issues in- 
volved. A larger proportion of such ballots 
would surely do nothing to render a more in- 
telligent choice on the part of the electorate. 

The task that lies before us, it seems to 
the writer, is to attempt to secure at least 
these ends: an unmanipulated casting of 
the ballots and a correct and honest count- 
ing of them; a method of campaigning by 
which a larger percentage of the voters may 
be informed as to the merits of candidates 
and issues; some system by which the peo- 
ple may themselves discuss the questions of 
the day, thus developing interest in self- 
government and bringing to the front those 
natural leaders to whom the actual task of 
government should be entrusted. 

It is the mission of these chapters to set 
forth some of the things that are wrong with 
our present methods and to suggest the line 
of action toward which we must inevitably 
tend in connection with our constantly in- 
creasing use of the ballot. 



CHAPTER II 

CAMPAIGN METHODS 

THE process by which we Americans ar- 
rive at a decision in regard to the merits 
of the various candidates for office is worth 
attention. In the first place it is lament- 
ably true that we learn the merits of an 
exceedingly small portion of the candidates 
who offer themselves. Even a cursory ex- 
amination of the election results will reveal 
how largely this is the case. In state 
elections, the vote on governor may very 
likely represent some intelligent choice 
(though not always founded on sufficient 
grounds), but the vote on lieutenant-gov- 
ernor, secretary of state, attorney-general 
and the other state officers betrays very 
little discrimination. The votes will vary 
but one or two per cent, of the total, and 
this small variation usually results from 



§ Reclaiming the Ballot 

local conditions, favorable or adverse to 
some candidate. It may safely be stated 
that outside of the office of governor, the 
voters rarely have any particular choice and 
usually stick close to party lines. It is, 
indeed, doubtful whether the average voter 
could name his own party candidates, to 
say nothing of those in opposition. 

In city elections, the same condition pre- 
vails. The mayoralty campaign will arouse 
some degree of interest, but as for the lesser 
offices, the voter will usually stick to his 
party ticket or else leave the incumbents in 
office. He has no specific knowledge of the 
merits of the various candidates and often 
does not even know them all by name. His 
preference will be given to the most widely 
known candidates, which may be a very 
different thing from the most favorably 
known. The voter, as a rule, is little inter- 
ested in any other offices than these: pres- 
ident, senator, congressman, governor, state 
senator, legislator, sheriff, mayor and alder- 
man. Occasionally an exceptionally popu- 
lar man or a grossly unworthy one may 
arouse the people's interest in some other 



Campaign Methods 9 

office, but it is a rare exception. Not al- 
ways, indeed, do the people evince an inter- 
est in even all those we have named. Par- 
ticularly in our large cities where legislators 
are elected in a bunch, little interest and 
practically no discrimination prevail. The 
dominant party almost without exception 
elects its entire slate and the votes received 
by the highest and lowest candidates show 
only the difference accounted for by per- 
sonal popularity. Here again, the average 
voter could not name the men who were 
running for the legislature, so say nothing 
of having any knowledge of their capabil- 
ities. 

All this, of course, is argument for the 
short ballot, but that is not the point we are 
attempting to bring out here. The question 
now before us is how do the people learn of 
the merits of the various candidates and the 
various measures submitted for approval or 
rejection. We are trying to show that there 
is no substantial, concerted effort made by 
the people as a government to come into 
association with candidates who offer them- 
selves for office. The government, as such. 



lo Reclaiming the Ballot 

gives no attention to and makes no expen- 
diture in any systematic plan to bring the 
candidates and the voters in touch with each 
other. Such steps as are taken are invari- 
ably at the initiative of the candidate him- 
self. This gives a great and seemingly un- 
fair advantage to the man who is able and 
willing to expend large sums of money for 
campaign purposes. It is not at all a safe 
way to secure the best men for public office. 
A good advertiser does not necessarily make 
a good mayor. A modest man, unwilling 
to cry his own wares, who shrinks from urg- 
ing people to vote for him, has little chance 
against Smith, who calmly admits that he 
will be the best mayor the town ever had. 
The money spent for campaign expenses by 
defeated candidates is an entire loss (except 
for advertising value) while the winner is 
compelled to spend a large portion of his 
salary in order to win. Various restrictive 
measures have been enacted limiting the 
amount that might be spent by any candi- 
date, and requiring the filing of a statement 
of campaign expenses. From lack of en- 
forcement, such laws are often ignored al- 



Campaign Methods II 

together. When they are observed, the can- 
didates frequently interpret the law to their 
own satisfaction and disregard "entertain- 
ment*' as part of their campaign expenses. 
Thus, a candidate whose campaign was 
notable for extravagant saloon operations, 
calmly files as his statement a negligible 
amount spent for circulars and postage. 
The candidate avers that he has a right to 
entertain his friends. He disregards the ob- 
vious fact that these "friends" could never 
secure such hospitality from him at any 
other time. 

This method of campaign procedure 
brings a constant temptation to the man in 
office to recoup himself for the large ex- 
pense in getting there. Likewise, it de- 
prives the state of the services of the man 
who is unwilling or unable to spend money 
in securing public office. Such men may well 
be of the sort the state most urgently needs. 

It is obvious that there has been little, if 
any, organized effort on the part of the 
state to familiarize the voter with the vari- 
ous candidates and the various propositions 
that are submitted. 



12 Reclaiming the Ballot 

Usually, this is absolutely restricted to an 
official election call, stating the time and 
places of the election, the officers to be 
chosen and the measures to be submitted. 
It will be contended, and rightly, that the 
government cannot take part in such an 
election by officially lending its aid to any 
candidate or any measure. But it is within 
the province of any government to officially 
place within the power of the people the op- 
portunity of having the measures discussed 
from all sides and of hearing all candidates 
express themselves on the leading issues of 
the day. There are many acceptable ways 
in which this could be done. One that 
seems feasible and effective will be offered 
later. Just at this point, we will examine 
the present process by which the voter se- 
cures the information he utilizes in making 
a choice. 

First, let us consider the campaign made 
for the candidate for public office. The en- 
tire campaign is undertaken at the instiga- 
tion of the candidate himself. Its expense 
is borne by him also, either directly or by 
means of a campaign fund raised among his 



Campaign Methods 13 

friends and those who expect to benefit by 
his election. Sometimes, the political party 
of which he is a member gives him aid. 
With the coming of the direct primary, 
there is a noticeable tendency to allow the 
candidate to "go it alone." More and more 
being elected has become a personal rather 
than a party matter. The campaign con- 
sists — to outside view, at least — in a nightly 
succession of meetings designed to bring the 
candidate into touch with his constituents. 
The meetings are held in all parts of the 
city or district, to give all voters a chance 
to hear the candidate on the issues of the 
election. Frequently, a candidate will speak 
at seven or more meetings in a single night. 
The coming of the automobile has greatly 
increased the amount of ground that can be 
covered in an evening. It is supposed that 
because so many meetings are held a 
majority of the voters must actually hear 
the candidate and learn his views concern- 
ing matters political. Such is far from be- 
ing the case. Political meetings as at pres- 
ent conducted merely touch the surface. 
Those who attend such meetings all too of- 



14 Reclaiming the Ballot 

ten do so from a motive remote from inter- 
est in politics. These meetings are gener- 
ally advertised to be held in "Schultz's 
Hall," or "O'Brien's Hall," or whatever the 
name may be. Investigation reveals that 
these halls are of two kinds. Many are bar- 
rooms, pure and simple, with a few chairs 
arranged at one side. If a speaker's address 
is dry, the electorate has an easy remedy 
at hand. All shades of sobriety and its op- 
posite may be seen at such meetings. The 
auditors range from the wildly enthusiastic 
to the quarrelsomely critical. In meetings 
of this sort, the short speech is frequently as 
much appreciated as the longer one. In- 
deed, it has been said that a certain speech 
consisting of only seven words was the most 
popular ever delivered in a certain "hall." 
It was: "Come on, boys, what will you 
have?" The candidate who fails to intro- 
duce some such sentiment somewhere dur- 
ing the course of his remarks, is set down as 
a "tightwad," and marked for slaughter. 
Likewise, he loses the "influence" of the 
bartender. In cases such as these, the can- 
didate pays his account with a five, a ten 



Campaign Methods ij 

or a twenty dollar bill. There is seldom any 
change forthcoming. 

The other variety of "hall" is a room ad- 
joining or over a saloon. Conditions in such 
cases are slightly better. The audience is 
more orderly; there is, perhaps, a little less 
obligation to "set them up." It is also 
possible to speak at greater length concern- 
ing the issues of the campaign. 

The same men attend meeting after meet- 
ing, because of the side-attractions in the 
way of free entertainments and free re- 
freshment. Often, too, it is possible to 
make a "touch." After many a meeting, a 
speaker is taken aside by a "striker," who 
requests cash, which he alleges will be spent 
among the boys, but which usually gets no 
further than his own capacious pocket, 
should the candidate prove foolish enough 
to donate anything. Others are willing to 
form "clubs" to be named for certain can- 
didates, and need funds for club expenses. 
Few of the "Smith for Mayor" clubs, etc., 
are the result of a genuine enthusiasm for 
the candidate. The candidates receive in- 
numerable other requests for money, and 



i6 Reclaiming the Ballot 

even churches are not always above accept- 
ing contributions in various forms. 

Aside from these saloon meetings, there 
are rarely gatherings of any sort during the 
campaign. To be sure, as a climax, there 
is usually a "grand rally" in the conven- 
tion hall or armory. This is the one occa- 
sion when those who do not care to attend 
saloon meetings have a chance to hear their 
favorite candidates. Of a verity, it is a 
case of favorite candidates, for the American 
voter, as a rule, will listen to no other. 
Democratic candidates are heartily ap- 
plauded at their meetings because the audi- 
ence is ninety per cent. Democratic. The 
same is true of Republican meetings. The 
campaign orator has as much chance to 
make converts as a preacher at his morning 
service. 

The outstanding feature of it all is that 
there is seldom any discussion of the issues 
anywhere, seldom any chance for the voter 
to hear both sides at the same meeting, and 
that most voters hear only one side, if any 
at all. Worst of all, there is never any op- 
portunity for the voter to express his own 



Campaign Methods 17 

views, no chance for any others than the 
candidates and their chosen speakers (fre- 
quently mercenaries) to be heard. The 
American voter is left without any spur to 
a civic consciousness. No one will know 
whether he has any civic spirit or not; and 
if he has, his vote will count no more than 
that of the most illiterate ignoramus. 

The American people, as a government, 
have never done anything to make it easy 
for them to know the qualifications of those 
who are to rule over them. What has been 
done — and every student knows that it has 
been done badly — has been the selfish work 
of those who sought office. This has re- 
sulted in making campaigning very expen- 
sive, as well as woefully inefficient. It has 
rendered it totally impossible for a man of 
small means to aspire to any prominent of- 
fice. Likewise it has placed temptation in 
the way of every oflftce-holder to recoup 
himself by means other than his salary. 
Many a politician has discovered himself to 
be ruined when, after an expensive cam- 
paign, the election went against him. 

What, therefore, ought to be the first 



1 8 Reclaiming the Ballot 

concern of the American people, we find 
has been left almost entirely to chance. 
Chance, it seems, ordains that in a large 
measure, only those who frequent bar- 
rooms shall have political doctrine expound- 
ed to them. Chance, it seems, rules out of 
our political life the man who will not con- 
duct a bar-to-bar campaign; and the man 
who will not is just what we most desper- 
ately need. The influence of this manner of 
campaigning on the character of the men 
who offer themselves for public office can 
hardly be estimated. A man who is in 
every way qualified for the position ^^itself, 
may be absolutely unqualified for the proc- 
ess of obtaining it. Very often, he is 
utterly unwilling to go through the degra- 
dation of such a campaign ; but even when 
he sets his eye on the distant good which 
may come out of all this evil, he is likely to 
be temperamentally unfit to successfully 
accomplish the task. "Bar-flies" are noto- 
riously adept at sizing up *' their sort"; and 
they quickly perceive when a candidate is 
out of his element and they govern them- 
selves accordingly. 



Campaign Methods 19 

It would seem that the so-called better 
class of voters would promptly repudiate 
the candidates who enter into questionable 
allegiances. Such is rarely the case and 
only when a prominent issue makes a divi- 
sion. Better class voters are not always 
aware of the merits or demerits of the vari- 
ous candidates. This is due largely to their 
disinclination to attend saloon meetings 
where they can acquaint themselves with 
the personalities of the contestants for pub- 
lic office. 

The campaign, therefore, as at present 
pursued, as far as direct contact between 
the voter and the candidate is concerned, is 
usually limited to a round of meetings con- 
ducted in or adjacent to saloons, and to a 
grand rally attended, generally speaking, 
only by those fully in accord with the vari- 
ous speakers. At none of these meetings is 
more than one side heard, except in those 
rare cases where one or the other of the con- 
testants issues a challenge to a joint debate 
and such challenge is duly accepted. Such 
joint debates frequently degenerate into 
volleys of personalities on the part of the 



20 Reclaiming the Ballot 

candidates and a cheering contest on the 
part of the audience. Aside from such de- 
bates, there are no meetings at which the 
audience hears both sides discussed. 

Aside from the meetings, present methods 
of campaigning include circularizing, bill- 
posters, newspaper advertising and various 
forms of publicity. Certain restrictions re- 
garding the amount of such advertising are 
in force in various states, some of which 
even attempt to regulate the size of the 
newspaper copy which may be used. Such 
laws are frequently flagrantly violated. If 
the prosecuting office is complacent, there is 
nothing to prevent the candidates "going 
the limit." A striking example was seen in 
the campaign of a candidate for a judgeship 
who violated the laws governing campaign 
advertising in a most obvious manner. His 
election was not contested, however, on these 
grounds, nor was any complaint brought 
against him. Campaigns of education are 
eminently right and proper. It ought, how- 
ever, to be a game played with a limit, 
and that limit should be rigidly enforced. 
The dangers along these lines are suffi- 



Campaign Methods 21 

ciently evident. The man who is most 
widely known (not necessarily most favor- 
ably) will always have a great advantage in 
vote-getting. The man with a "'barrel" 
ought no more to be allowed to buy his way 
into office with broadsides of newspaper 
space, than by the outright purchase of 
votes. There is always, too, the possibility 
that the purchase of large newspaper space 
may only be an evasive way of purchasing 
newspaper influence. In a word, it should 
remain in the candidate's power to ac- 
quaint the public with the reasons for his 
candidacy, but not to ride into office on a 
wave of clever advertising. 

Passing from a consideration of the meth- 
ods used in campaigning for candidates, let 
us see what is done in the case of measures 
submitted to referendum. Unless there is a 
powerful influence behind such a measure, 
or raised in opposition to it, practically 
nothing will be done to bring the question 
before the people, except such work as the 
newspapers care to do. The newspapers 
are under no obHgations in the matter, ex- 
cept the same one that rests upon every cit- 



22 Reclaiming the Ballot 

izen, to do what he can for the public weal. 
Sometimes our politicians will discuss these 
questions in their campaigns, but there is a 
coming, and unfortunate, tendency to pass 
the responsibility over to the people. The 
people then decide the matter without guid- 
ance and very largely without discussion. 
There is no way in which these questions 
are brought prominently before the people 
and no opportunity to hear the arguments 
pro and con. Even where newspapers do 
present the matter at all, they generally 
suppress all arguments contrary to their 
view of the case. Readers who take only 
one newspaper thus receive only one view 
of any public question, except such light as 
they receive in casual discussion with ac- 
quaintances. 

We have seen, therefore, that the gov- 
ernment, as such, takes no interest in bring- 
ing candidates before the people. Further, 
that the people themselves make no effort 
and spend no money in learning the quali- 
fications of candidates. Effort and expense 
^ in this connection are put up to the candi- 
t date. Instead of the people spending mone^ 



Campaign Methods 23 

to find a satisfactory servant, we find that] 
contestants spend money to get a job.j 
With such a program how can we expect 
otherwise than to find that pubHc office is 
looked upon as a job, as a reward for con- 
testing for it, and so little as an opportunity 
for service? We need a new conception of 
the entire matter. The people need good 
men in office, men that are ^*good" from 
more than one standpoint. They must not 
only be honest, but able, and with especial 
qualifications for the position to which they 
aspire. The people ought to be willing to 
spend money to attain this great desider- 
atum. Yet any attempt to move any part 
of the first expense of campaigning from 
the candidate's shoulders to the public's is 
met with derisive opposition on the ground 
of economy. There is no economy so great 
as efficiency, and it is far better to spend 
money in bringing candidates before the 
people than it is to have unfit office-holders 
misuse and waste the public funds by negli- 
gence or incompetency. Until we get some- 
thing of this point of view, it is almost hope- 
less to expect any great improvement in the 



^4 Reclaiming the Ballot 

kind of public officers we elect. The best 
men will not indulge in an unseemly scram- 
ble for position, involving as it usually does 
extravagant self-praise and close associa- 
tion with the less desirable elements of so- 
ciety. 

Even worse is the fact that our modern 
campaign procedure gives no opportunity 
whatever for initiative on the part of the 
individual voter. He may have splendid 
arguments regarding the points at issue in 
the campaign but he can hardly express 
them unless he is a candidate for office, and 
then only to restricted numbers. That the 
people have opinions and wish to express 
them is evidenced by the large numbers of 
letters written to our daily papers on every 
conceivable subject. That this is a valu- 
able asset and should be most energetically 
encouraged ought to be equally apparent. 
The individual voter's part in govern- 
ment is fairly restricted to casting his bal- 
lot, and with the probable increase of pow- 
ers given to the electorate, this will continue 
to be more and more the case. The advan- 
tages of the town meeting have been greatly 



Campaign Methods 25 

lost to us in our modern American life. 
The great benefits conferred by public 
discussion are being gradually taken 
away from us, and the immeasurable 
value to the individual citizen of free 
expression in debate is almost entirely 
lost. 

In the cases of measures submitted for 
public approval this is even more noticeable 
and at least equally dangerous. The can- 
didate's selfish desire for office urges him to 
make his real and alleged merits as widely 
known as possible. Unless a proposition is 
backed by those having a large interest in 
it, there is no spur to bring men to a thor- 
ough discussion, especially when the ex- 
penses of such discussion must be borne by 
the voters themselves. 

It is evident that something needs to be 
done to take campaigning out of its present 
condition as a round of meetings held 
largely in such surroundings that many 
voters entirely refuse to attend them and 
conducted at the expense of the men who 
aspire to office, thus directly placing a self- 
ish motive before candidates. As to what 



26 Reclaiming the Ballot 

should be done, there might be differences 
of opinion; but that a change is needed 
would almost seem to be beyond disagree- 
ment. 



CHAPTER III 

INEFFICIENT CITIZENS 

THE indifference of American citizens to 
the duties and privileges conferred upon 
them by the free ballot is a colossal arraign- 
ment of our good citizenship. The men who 
vote at all elections are very rare, indeed. 
No election, however important or how ex- 
citing as a contest, succeeds in dragging 
every voter to the polls. In most of our 
cities, the voting booth is never located 
farther than a few blocks from any voter in 
the district. Unless voting be deferred until 
the rush hours of the evening, the act of pre- 
paring and casting the ballot occupies but a 
few moments of time. Yet many men plead 
inability to be good citizens because they 
are "too busy." It would furnish an ef- 
fective object lesson if one of these "too 
busy" men were to be compelled to render 



28 Reclaiming the Ballot 

an accurate accounting for all of his time 
on election day. It can safely be stated that 
ninety-nine per cent, could not prove that 
they were busily occupied every moment. 
We Americans have time for everything else 
under the sun: the movies, the tango, the 
long lunch hour at the club, the theater, the 
lodge — anything we wish to do, it would 
seem; but unless we are fired by the excite- 
ment of an unusually thrilling campaign, 
we haven't time for voting. Spring elec- 
tions frequently fail to bring out more than 
thirty per cent, of the registered voters. 
Seven men out of every ten stay at home. 
Only a few judges, a school inspector, an au- 
ditor to be chosen, that's all. '*No use both- 
ering, my one vote won't matter anyway; 
better stay comfortably at home to-night," 
the busy man tells himself. The three men 
that do turn out are usually very vitally in- 
terested in the outcome of the election. 
They are the practical politicians and they 
never fail to vote; and because of this, the 
"slates" which they arrange usually go 
through without a crack. A powerful city 
'* machine" can control so large an army of 



Inefficient Citizens 29 

voters that it can uniformly win where 
there is a large stay-at-home vote. In a 
recent primary in a large city, every single 
candidate who was running for a renomina- 
tion was successful. Many of them de- 
served the reward; some possibly did not. 
The point is that they received the support 
of the active politicians and in the face of a 
very light vote, no outsider made even a 
respectable showing. 

During the famous Roosevelt-Taft- Wilson 
campaign, a well-dressed citizen was heard 
to inquire from another the location of the 
polling-booth. He said: "I have lived in 
this neighborhood four years, but I never 
bothered to vote." 

His friend replied: "Neither have I. It 

seems to me the booth is on street near 

street. I think I have seen it from the 

street car, but I'm not sure.'' These two 
men were going to vote because of a very 
special interest in a certain presidential can- 
didate. The remainder of their ballot 
would not express any intelligent choice 
whatever. 

Unfortunately, citizens such as these are 



30 Reclaiming the Ballot 

by no means few. A comparison of the total 
male population of adult age with the num- 
ber of votes cast in any election would show 
a startling discrepancy. So to many men 
the affairs of their own private lives, how- 
ever petty, take precedence over affairs of 
state to such an extent that the latter do 
not receive attention at all. 

One man, when asked to join in a move- 
ment looking toward the elimination of cor- 
rupt manipulation of the vote in his dis- 
trict, replied : '' I have no convictions along 
that line. Business is good with me. It 
doesn't make the slightest difference in the 
world to me whether they count those bal- 
lots right or not." Too many men "have 
no convictions," and too many others dare 
not express them for fear of hurting busi- 
ness, or giving offense. 

A prominent politician once said that a 
spring election was always a ''wet" election. 
By this he meant that saloon-keepers and 
their friends and supporters of open-town 
policies can always be depended upon to 
vote even in the so-called unimportant 
spring election, while the good citizen can 



Inefficient Citizens 31 

be depended upon to stay at home. It is 
probably true that saloon-keepers maintain 
a better average as regards voting than do 
Sunday-school superintendents. The " wet " 
element makes no exception. It votes al- 
ways. Its members are never too busy, 
seldom ill and very infrequently out of town. 
They not only vote, but they get their 
friends to vote. Every brother, cousin, un- 
cle and other relative is urged to do "his 
duty." This element knows unanimously 
what it wants. Quite without any apparent 
system, the word seems to be passed around 
that Mr. Smith is "O. K.,'' or that Mr. 
Jones will not do. When charter or consti- 
tutional amendments are submitted, this 
element to a man knows whether it is to be 
aye or nay. While the church clubs are de- 
bating the matter pro and con and coming 
to hopeless division, lovers of lax law move 
to the polls in a body and vote as a unit. 

It is practically universally admitted that 
a light vote means a vote largely composed 
of what we come to consider the less desir- 
able elements of society. The officers cho- 
sen at these light elections are by no means 



32 Reclaiming the Ballot 

unimportant. We can come to no other 
conclusion than that since the votes are cast 
largely by the least desirable element, and 
often counted by the same element, we, as 
a matter of fact, are governed and ruled by 
this element. 

At these spring elections, police or mu- 
nicipal judges are very generally chosen. 
Petty offenders are brought before these 
judges for trial and sentence. In their 
hands depends the enforcement of law to a 
considerable extent. Whether a city is in- 
fested with petty thieves, pickpockets, pan- 
handlers and other undesirables depends 
very much upon whether these judges are 
severe with offenders or not. These men 
as a rule are elected not by those desiring 
strict law enforcement, but by those who 
care little for law of any kind and who par- 
ticularly object to its enforcement in regard 
to themselves. After a police-court judge 
has been triumphantly elected following a 
thorough saloon campaign, he is not likely 
to be especially severe with the liquor law 
offenders who are brought before him." 
When the judge knows these fellows well 



Inefficient Citizens 33 

enough to address them as John and George 
and Billy, he is hardly likely to do anything 
to secure their enmity. If the so-called 
better citizens once convinced police-court 
judges that they did the electing, the judges 
would do their bidding. They would recog- 
nize their masters and obey those who 
placed them in their positions. It is 
claimed that in hardly a single one of our 
great cities can a district attorney or a crim- 
inal-court judge be elected without the 
friendship of the under side of society — the 
very persons against whom his activities 
ought to be directed. 

In most states, the opening of saloons on 
Sunday is absolutely forbidden. How many 
large cities enforce this law ? If in your city 
the saloons are open on Sunday, you know 
whom it is that the public officials fear. If 
they feared the Good Government League 
and the church clubs and the law-abiding 
citizens, they would close the saloons, would 
they not? It surely seems necessary to in- 
stil in the minds of government officers a 
healthy fear of the better elements of so- 
ciety. To do this, it becomes absolutely 



34 Reclaiming the Ballot 

necessary to induce all men to vote, and 
also to vote intelligently. That this is done 
now cannot be successfully claimed. The 
saloon man always votes for the saloon can- 
didate — never for the church candidate — if 
there is one. The church voter, on the other 
hand, very frequently votes for the saloon 
man's candidate. Why.? Because he is on 
the party ticket, more than likely. When 
the saloon-keeper enters the polling-booth, 
he forgets whether he is a Republican or a 
Democrat, and votes for the man he knows 
is "right" from his standpoint. The ''bet- 
ter citizen" all too often votes his party 
ticket ''straight" or splits it only in the case 
of one or two "important" offices. The 
better citizen is seldom, or never, organ- 
ized in so complete a way as are the foes of 
society. "Slates" arranged by good gov- 
ernment bodies nearly always fall before 
the slate arranged with less publicity but 
greater efficiency by their rivals. Perhaps 
this is because of the very intelligence of the 
better class of voter. Being intelligent, he 
does not wish to have any one make his 
choice for him. The less desirable voter. 



Inefficient Citizens 35 

not having any pride in his intelligence, is 
willing to submit to instruction from those 
who know. The better element confuse the 
issue by allowing several "good" candidates 
to contest for the same office, their vote be- 
coming hopelessly split up and the man 
unanimously supported by the undesirables 
being an easy winner. The better voter 
also often votes for the wrong man because 
he does not know. So many candidates are 
offered that he becomes confused and is un- 
able to express an intelligent choice. George 
T. Thompson is running for the state senate. 
Now the good voter once knew a George D. 
Thompson. His memory swerves. Is this 
man the same? The George D. Thompson 
he knew was always greatly interested in 
politics, spoke before church clubs, etc., a 
good, clean man in every way, a bank 
cashier. Now, actually, this George D. 
Thompson was dead, and the George T. 
Thompson who was running for the senate 
was an unsuccessful lawyer who had few 
scruples when it came to money matters. 
His opponent, who was a clever and up- 
right man, was hopelessly beaten. 



36 Reclaiming the Ballot 

Many citizens do not understand the com- 
paratively simple process of marking a bal- 
lot. Every election sees a host of spoiled or 
void ballots thrown out. It is true, of 
course, that a certain number of these bal- 
lots are purposely spoiled at the time of 
counting. In certain "controlled" election 
precincts this is true of a large number. 
Aside from these, however, it is lamentably 
true that many ballots are thrown out be- 
cause the voter was unable to express his 
choice intelligently. 

Many voters confuse a primary with an 
election. This is increasingly true with the 
advent of the direct primary, under the so- 
called ''open" system. Under the open 
primary the names of all candidates of all 
parties are printed on one large ballot and 
the voter may designate his party in the 
secrecy of the booth. Under the closed sys- 
tem, each party has its own ballot and the 
voter must express a preference, in some 
cases by an enrollment some weeks or 
months in advance. The comparative mer- 
its of the open and the closed primary have 
been the subject of many heated debates. 



Inefficient Citizens 37 

The point here raised obtains, of course, 
only under the open system. The voter has 
been handed a large blanket ballot, with the 
various party columns resembling closely 
the ballot which will be given him when the 
regular election comes around. The pri- 
mary is theoretically a party caucus at 
which the party members choose the candi- 
dates of their particular party. It is not to 
be presumed that Democrats have any in- 
terest in Republican candidates, or vice 
versa. Just here is the point that so many 
voters find difficult to understand. A ticket 
may be split at election time. Why not in 
the primary .f* Despite all proclamations 
(usually printed on the ballot) forbidding 
this, and various penalties imposed (varying 
from losing a vote on the particular office in- 
volved to forfeiting the entire ballot), voters, 
in considerable numbers, will insist upon 
splitting their ballots in the primary. The 
voter sees some friend he desires to favor, 
some enemy he wishes to punish in some 
opposing party column. It is an easy step 
to wander from his own caucus. His vote is 
partly or entirely spoiled. Here again, in- 



38 Reclaiming the Ballot 

> 

vestigation inclines to the opinion that those 
best informed along these lines are those 
who are seeking selfish interest, while the 
good citizen is painfully deficient in knowl- 
edge as to his rights and duties. Many an 
illiterate hanger-on can give a fairly accu- 
rate account of how a ballot ought to be 
marked, what the law provides in the way 
of allowing certain classes (women, tax- 
payers, etc.) to vote on certain matters. 
The good citizen, all too often, has over- 
looked posting himself on such points. He 
is at an obvious disadvantage. 

In the matter of charter revisions, con- 
stitutional amendments, etc., there is all too 
little full and free discussion of what is in- 
volved in the proposed change. With the 
general use of the initiative, it will become 
comparatively easy to get almost any prop- 
osition on the ballot. A very small minor- 
ity can place it there by petition. Even the 
small number of signers may not actually 
desire the legislation asked. A man hardly 
cares to "turn down" a good friend when it 
comes to a matter of merely signing a peti- 
tion. Explanation of the merits of the 



Inefficient Citizens 39 

proposition are usually verbal. Prevailing 
conditions are usually painted much worse 
than they are. Much more is promised 
than the remedy can possibly produce. 
There is very little done in the way of bring- 
ing these amendments before the people in 
any free, unprejudiced way. Newspaper 
comments are all too often biased and yet 
they afford practically all the information 
that the average voter receives. Very many 
times, he is unaware that an amendment is 
to be submitted until it confronts him in 
the voting-booth. On the ballot, it may be 
so worded that he is unaware of the real 
operation of the amendment should it be 
carried. Franchises may be referred to as 
"contracts," "leases," "arrangements"; sal- 
ary increases may be submitted without 
stating the previous salary or even the one 
proposed ; questions involving expenditures 
or bond issues may be put so ambiguously 
that nothing remains for the careless voter 
but a snap decision. 

At this point, it is only designed to show 
the present carelessness and indifference 
prevalent, both in regard to voting and more 



40 Reclaiming the Ballot 

particularly in the matter of not voting. 
Elsewhere, it will be shown how dangerous 
it is to attempt any other reforms until the 
fundamental reform of our election system 
is successful. 

If the arguments here brought forward 
and the illustrations here given are not suf- 
ficient to prove to the reader that the Amer- 
ican electorate and more particularly the so- 
called better citizens are indifferent and 
careless in regard to their civic duties, that 
reader may amply satisfy himself by a care- 
ful survey of conditions in his own town. 
Talk to the politicians, survey the results at 
election time, become acquainted with the 
operations of the precinct election board 
and the facts in the case will be amply at- 
tested. 

It is apparent that something more should 
be done than has been done in the past to 
inspire the average American with a realiza- 
tion of the duty of voting, to teach him how 
to vote intelligently, and particularly to il- 
lustrate to him the practical processes by 
which the people's choice is recorded. This 
should be begun in the school-room. It 



Inefficient Citizens 41 

should be a very prominent part of the edu- 
cational system to train young Americans 
to be good citizens. Yet, themes of this 
kind have been left, all too often, to the 
commencement orator, who makes the eagle 
scream and inspires in us a feeling of loyalty 
to the home of the brave and the land of the 
free, but whose instructions are generally of 
a somewhat vague nature. 

There are many signs of increasing inter- 
est along this line among school authorities. 
The course of study in the New York el- 
ementary schools outlines a splendid pro- 
gram in civics, intended to equip the pupil 
in the fundamentals of citizenship and also 
offers suggestions to teachers along the very 
lines we are urging here. It outlines for 
class study "The Reciprocal Duties of Cit- 
izens," as follows: 

"To register, to vote, to enroll, to know how can- 
didates are selected, to know party organization, to 
inquire into the ability, honesty and integrity of 
each person who is a candidate for public office, to 
inquire into public activities of the neighborhood, to 
join such political, religious and social societies as in 
his opinion contribute most to the welfare of the 



42 Reclaiming the Ballot 

community and the country; to be well-informed on 
city, state and national affairs, and to act intelli- 
gently, honestly and unselfishly in working for better 
laws in the city." 

The suggestions to teachers in this con- 
nection are as follows: 

"While the city government is being studied, it is 
well to organize your class along the lines of the city 
government. At election time, a fac-simile of a 
ballot should be shown and its rules explained." 

Besides all this, there is outlined an elab- 
orate program including a study of the 
workings of the government in all its 
branches, why government is necessary, 
what it does for the people, what the people 
must do in response and other kindred 
topics. Faithful carrying out of such a 
course cannot fail to accomplish a great 
amount of good. The pupil drilled along 
these lines is well in the way of becoming a 
good citizen. 

Nor is New York alone in this present 
trend. Cleveland pays very careful atten- 
tion to civics, and instruction covers not 



Inefficient Citizens 43 

only the duty of voting, but explains the 
casting of the ballot. It is true, however, 
that special emphasis is placed upon this 
instruction in the evening classes, where a 
considerable proportion of the pupils are of 
foreign birth. 

In several other cities, too, the school 
authorities report that classes along civic 
lines are conducted in the evening schools 
and particularly for foreign-born pupils. 
This is well enough if it does not mean that 
day pupils and native-born pupils are neg- 
lected. As a matter of fact, the American 
child stands as greatly in need of instruc- 
tion along these lines as does his foreign- 
born brother. It is surely a mistake to give 
the immigrant specific instruction in regard 
to the ballot and allow our own offspring to 
pick up their information as best they may. 

Chicago, under the direction of its ef- 
ficient and progressive superintendent, Ella 
Flagg Young, has been well to the forefront 
in this matter. In the eighth grade (gram- 
mar school), in connection with history and 
civics, opportunity is usually given the 
children to familiarize themselves with 



44 Reclaiming the Ballot 

methods of voting and with the ballot. In 
the same grade, the so-called "Chicago 
Course" takes up historical, geographical, 
industrial and civic conditions of Chicago. 
There is in the first year of the high school 
an optional course known as "Civic and In- 
dustrial Chicago," in which the information 
about voting would be included. This is 
eminently good and particularly so because 
the work is begun in the eighth grade. So 
very large a portion of our pupils, boys par- 
ticularly, leave school at the end of the 
grammar grades, that it would surely be 
deplorable to give practical civic instruc- 
tion only to the fraction who continue on 
into the upper grades. 

In Detroit, teachers and principals are 
given considerable latitude in the matter 
of civic instruction, but as yet no standard 
work has been adopted making ballot 
training an essential part of any course. 
Much has been done in this direction, par- 
ticularly at election time, but thus far it 
has largely been at the initiative of the in- 
structors rather than as a prescribed item 
in the curriculum. 



Inefficient Citizens 45 

There are other cities which evince partic- 
ular interest in the teaching of practical 
civics, and in specific instruction in regard 
to the ballot, and other cities where there 
is a feeling that what has been done in this 
line is too general and that what is needed 
is to give the work more specific relation to 
the duties of citizens. Cities in this class 
are generally in process of revising their 
courses and it is to be earnestly hoped that 
ultimately they will perceive the wisdom of 
giving all the pupils clear-cut, specific in- 
struction in regard to the voting process. 

Other cities, as before hinted, leave all 
instruction of this kind to the classes de- 
signed for foreign-born pupils who are pre- 
paring for naturalization. Still others state 
that nothing specific is being attempted 
along this line, but that the course of study 
is sufficiently flexible so that the teachers 
and principals may and do give much civic 
instruction. This, it would seem, is alto- 
gether too haphazard a method and the 
good or bad citizenship of the pupil entirely 
too much a matter of the inclination of his 
instructors. 



46 Reclaiming the Ballot 

It is obvious, therefore, that while a few 
of the most progressive of our educators are 
keenly alive to their responsibilities in this 
matter, the study of civics and balloting 
is by no means a standard subject in our 
schools. What is needed is a constant re- 
iteration of the duty of taking part in civic 
affairs and particularly in voting. This 
ought to begin as early in school life as 
seems practicable and be continued through 
the higher institutions, where, of course, 
training along this line is already being 
given. This work should include what is 
being accomplished by the ballot, what offi- 
cers are elected and in what manner, the 
duties of these officers and why it is impor- 
tant to exercise care in selecting them. A 
final step should be actual instruction in 
casting and counting ballots, identical with 
those in use in the place where the pupil 
lives. It might very well be made a con- 
dition of advancement that the pupil pass 
an examination in ballot-marking. 

A practical means by which this might be 
demonstrated might be found in conducting 
an actual election with two or more parties 



Inefficient Citizens 47 

formed among the pupils, candidates put 
forward and a regular ballot provided. 
Pupils to serve as election officials might be 
selected by the teacher. A practical test 
such as this might very well arouse the 
pupil's interest and he might thus learn the 
elements of government by actual experi- 
ment. 



CHAPTER IV 

DEFEATING THE PEOPLE's WILL 

IT would seem that the most rigorous 
measures would be taken to assure that 
the vote is properly cast and accurately and 
fairly counted. As a matter of fact, a more 
haphazard process, or one more open to 
manipulation than the one in use in most 
cities can hardly be conceived. Instead of 
stringent safeguards, we find a spirit of in- 
difference. Instead of heated indignation 
when error or corruption is found, there is 
a spirit of bowing to the inevitable, that ef- 
fort at reform is useless. 

The American citizen takes it for granted 
that the elected officials are the choice of a 
majority of the voters. All too frequently 
they are merely the choice of a few groups 
of a half-dozen men, sitting in secret con- 
cealment in the dark hours of the night 



Defeating the People's Will 49 

with no one to thwart whatever purpose 
may rule their desires. A precinct or voting 
district where such a condition obtains is 
said to be "controlled." In every city, 
there are "controlled" precincts, varying in 
number according to local conditions, and 
according to the vigilance of the prosecut- 
ing authorities. "Controlled precincts" in 
the city of Detroit have been variously esti- 
mated at from twenty to fifty. The opin- 
ions of expert observers seem to place the 
number at thirty. It is not likely that De- 
troit is worse, in this respect, than other 
cities. Many voters like to think that this 
corrupt condition is remote from their 
own locality. Raising their eyes to Heaven, 
they thank God that they are not as other 
precincts are. Grant that their simple con- 
fidence may not be misplaced. 

It may seem that a comparatively small 
number of precincts which may be "con- 
trolled" could not possibly alter the final 
result. It must be borne in mind that in 
the case of a close election a very few votes 
may turn the tide. Whenever a spirited 
campaign is conducted, the result is likely 



so Reclaiming the Ballot 

to be very even. These controlled pre- 
cincts do not hesitate to "let down" an op- 
posing candidate with few or no votes. The 
table below will illustrate how one cor- 
rupted precinct may overbalance five pre- 
cincts where the vote is correctly counted. 
Thus : 

Precinct One — Smith 425 Jones 401 

Precinct Two — Smith 397 Jones 370 

Precinct Three — Smith 421 Jones 394 

Precinct Four — Smith 375 Jones 352 

Precinct Five — Smith 391 Jones 374 

Precinct Six — Smith 156 Jones 597 



Total 2,165 2,488 

In the first five precincts, the vote was 
correctly counted. The sixth was a con- 
trolled precinct. It will be seen that though 
Smith carried five of the six precincts, he 
did not lead in the total vote of the entire 
six. The lead he gathered in the five was 
completely overwhelmed by Jones' enor- 
mous vote in his one precinct. Pass along 
the city's streets, you will not know when 
you pass from the fifth precinct to the sixth. 
The residences are of similar character, the 



Defeating the People's Will 51 

people are of the same type and in similar 
circumstances. There is nothing to dis- 
tinguish this sixth precinct from the pre- 
cincts on either side. Yet there has been a 
startling reversal of opinion, and the judg- 
ment of the other five precincts has been 
vetoed by the vote in the one. Such an 
example, which is common enough in mu- 
nicipal political life, would tend to show 
that the controlled precinct exercises more 
influence than would be considered possible. 
When two or three such precincts are lo- 
cated in the same ward, it is obvious that it 
becomes impossible to elect an alderman, 
estimator, school-inspector, constable or any 
other ward officer without the advice and 
consent of the man in the booth. 

The methods by which votes may be 
juggled by a corrupt election board are 
many. They are limited only by the range 
of human ingenuity and it must be ad- 
mitted that the vote manipulator is pos- 
sessed of an abundant amount of acumen 
along this line. The Master said, " the chil- 
dren of evil are wiser in their generation 
than the children of light.'* Not only wiser, 



52 Reclaiming the Ballot 

but they seem to work harder at it. Again 
we are adjured to be "wise as serpents, 
harmless as doves." We implicitly obey 
the second clause of the commandment. 

We need mention but a few of the pos- 
sible activities which are at the command 
of a wide-awake corrupt board. 

The ''instructed" voter is a fertile field 
for operations. Nearly all election laws 
provide that a voter who is physically in- 
capacitated or who is unable to read Eng- 
lish may be assisted in marking his ballot, 
such assistance to be rendered by an in- 
spector of elections, under regulations care- 
fully prescribed by law. These regulations 
are all too often more honored in the breach 
than in the observance. It is obvious that 
there is little to prevent a voter's being as- 
sisted whether it is actually necessary or 
not. In certain precincts in the foreign 
quarters of large cities, it is almost impos- 
sible to cast a vote without such assistance. 
Only vigorous insistence, often in the face 
of threats of physical violence, enables a 
man to cast his own vote. Many of these 
voters are under the dominance of the pre- 



Defeating the People's Will 53 

cinct boss and are entirely willing to allow 
him to usurp their rights as citizens. A 
naive negro, who recently moved from one 
city to another, innocently remarked: "Yo' 
alls votes diff'rent heah from what they 
does where Ah comes from. A nice p'lite 
man marks yo' ballot fo' yo'." 

Even in the cases where assistance is 
actually needed, it is by no means certain 
to be fairly given. The average voter will 
have two or three strong prejudices in re- 
gard to his ballot. If he be granted his own 
way in regard to these, he is more or less 
indifferent regarding the rest and the man 
who marks the ballot can usually do pretty 
much as he pleases. In cases where the il- 
literacy is genuine, there is nothing to pre- 
vent the inspector marking names other 
than the ones indicated by the voter. As 
long as this loophole of incapacitated and 
illiterate voters remains, it will be extremely 
difficult to eliminate corrupt voting. De- 
signed as a protection for certain unfortu- 
nate voters and to be used in exceptional 
cases only, it has come to be quite the rule 
in localities where a controlled vote is de- 



54 Reclaiming the Ballot 

sired. The voter who has been directly 
bought, as is the case with "floaters" so- 
called, is instructed to ask for assistance, 
and the inspector actually casts the ballot 
for him. Similar measures are used in the 
case of other voters, who for any reason, it 
is possible to influence or intimidate. The 
secrecy of the ballot, so sacred to our Amer- 
ican traditions, is seriously interfered with. 
Yet few seem to think that any drastic ac- 
tion, particularly if it involves the expendi- 
ture of any money, should be undertaken. 
When a voter moves from one precinct to 
another, he is given a transfer slip and his 
name (presumably) erased from the regis- 
tration book of the district he has left. 
This last procedure may accidentally be 
omitted where the voter is not alert — and 
he usually is not. After receiving his trans- 
fer slip, the average voter immediately 
leaves the booth, trusting to the honesty 
and competence of the man at the books. 
Unfortunately, all too often he is lacking in 
either one or the other. Even where his in- 
tentions are altogether virtuous, he is hur- 
ried by the insistence of waiting voters and 



Defeating the People's Will 55 

postpones the operation of crossing off the 
name of the departed voter until he "has 
time." The names thus remain on the 
registration book as perfectly eligible vo- 
ters. It becomes an easy matter to cast 
votes for as many of these removed ones as 
are needed. Floaters and strangers can be 
used to represent the voters, or where a 
board is unanimously corrupt, the votes 
can usually be put through entirely without 
the human equation of the supposed voter. 
Similar advantage may be taken in the case 
of voters who have died or moved from 
the city. The story is told of a certain elec- 
tion-board chairman who cast a vote for a 
man who had died several days previous to 
the election. He justified himself thus: "I 
know what the old man's views was. He 
was for Wrogge for mayor. Hain't right 
for him to lose his vote just because he hap- 
pened to die." 

Voting absentees, non-residents and dead 
men can be done without fear of detection. 
The election board has only to aver that a 
man presented himself as Mr. So-and-So, 
and was allowed to vote on his own state- 



56 Reclaiming the Ballot 

ment which was not challenged. Even 
though it be proved that Mr. So-and-So was 
personally known to certain members of 
the board, it can be claimed that such mem- 
bers were not present at the time he voted. 

In every precinct, no matter how close 
the election or widespread the interest, 
there are large numbers of voters who do 
not turn out. To a reasonable degree, an 
election board whose members understand 
one another can vote some of these names 
with complete security. Citizens who do 
not vote seldom consult poll-lists to see 
whether or not some one else has under- 
taken their civic duties for them. 

In addition, there are many ways by 
which the voter's intent may be easily al- 
tered after the polls are closed. Our ballots 
could hardly be made easier to manipulate 
were one to make a direct effort with that 
purpose in view. The so-called straight 
ballot is admirably suited to such a purpose. 
The voter, strong in his partisan sympa- 
thies, declares that he intends to vote for 
his party candidates from president to cor- 
oner. Unfortunately, his vote as finally 



Defeating the People's Will 57 

counted is quite different from the way it 
left his hands. To vote his straight ticket, 
he places an X 2il the top of his party col- 
umn and lets it go at that. The short-pencil 
manipulator finds this ballot a fertile field 
for his activities. The short pencil can be 
easily concealed in the hand and its use is 
very safe for the manipulator. This proc- 
ess is called "letting the blue bird fly."" 
Usually in order to split a ticket, it is merely 
necessary to place an X before the name of 
a candidate in any opposing party column. 
This automatically *' scratches" the candi- 
date whose name is opposite and in the 
voter's own party column. How easy, how 
very easy, and how wonderfully safe, for 
the manipulator to place an X before the 
name of any special favorite! Such a vote 
becomes entirely recount proof. It is just 
such a vote as hundreds of voters cast and, 
aside from actual eye-witness testimony, 
there can be no proof that any manipulating 
has been done. 

Where the votes have been more care- 
fully cast, the best the manipulator can do 
is to spoil as many opposing ballots as he 



58 Reclaiming the Ballot 

dares. This is accomplished by voting for 
all candidates for the office. It is then im- 
possible to judge the voter's intent and the 
ballot becomes void as far as that particular 
office is concerned. 

In especially aggravated cases, where city 
administrations are not strict in insisting 
upon an accounting of unused ballots, it 
may be possible to substitute specially pre- 
pared ballots and to destroy some of those 
actually voted. This, of course, can be done 
only when collusion with higher authorities 
has reached a high point of perfection. 

Even when one or two of the members of 
the election board are honest and alert, it 
is easily possible for the other members to 
manipulate the count. There are usually 
two sets of ballots to be counted, city and 
county, or city and state, or city and na- 
tional. An election board of six or more 
members will usually be divided into two 
crews. The honest men can usually be seg- 
regated on the counting of the ballots with 
which the manipulators least desire to do 
business. Even though an honest member 
succeeds in getting placed on the counting 



Defeating the People's Will 59 

of the ballots which are to be counted er- 
roneously, he will need to be very wide 
awake indeed to circumvent a clever and 
unscrupulous team of manipulators. The 
honest man must either call or tally. The 
caller holds the ballots in his hand and reads 
the result from one after another. Usually, 
nothing but his conscience stands in the 
way of his reading them to suit himself. If 
he is moderate in his knavery, he is unlikely 
ever to be punished even if caught. A little 
error of ten to twenty per cent, of the votes 
can easily be called a mistake due to the long 
hours, poor ventilation and other reasons. 
Such "errors" only come out in the case of 
a recount, and it is interesting to note that 
practically all general recounts of a city or 
county vote reveal wide discrepancies be- 
tween the original result and the recount. 
The tallyers tabulate the vote by making 
little marks in groups of five in a book es- 
pecially designed for this purpose. There 
are usually two tallyers. 

Should the honest member be set to tally- 
ing, as would naturally be the case, the vote- 
juggler with the ballots in his possessioi;! 



6o Reclaiming the Ballot 

reads them as he sees fit. On the other 
hand, if the honest member is allowed to 
call the ballots, the two tallyers can easily 
have an understanding that every third or 
fourth ballot for Jones will be counted for 
Smith. A pressure of the foot beneath the 
table may be the signal or the change may 
be effected with each repetition of the word 
"tally," which occurs whenever a group of 
five has been made for any candidate. 

Even should the calling and tallying be 
correctly done, there still remains an oppor- 
tunity for manipulating the result. A slov- 
enly practice prevails among election boards 
of signing all reports, tally-sheets and other 
papers before they are filled in, usually at 
once upon organizing in the morning. This 
is done upon the e;xcuse of getting home 
early and not leaving so much to be done 
after the polls close. As there is really con- 
siderable detail and red-tape to go through 
with, the excuse will pass muster in most 
cases. The chairman of the board with the 
signed tally-sheets in his possession, can 
give the honest member something to do in 
the way of copying reports that must be 



Defeating the People*s Will 6i 

made in duplicate, and while he is so en- 
gaged, alter the result by a few quick pencil 
strokes. He must be skilful to accomplish 
this. And he usually is. 

Other means by which the will of the 
voter is grossly thwarted are doubtless in 
operation. The situation lends itself to 
knavery and the corrupt election board is 
usually well entrenched in its position. It 
is difficult, if not indeed impossible, to dis- 
lodge them from their offices since, as a 
rule, they themselves count the ballots by 
which they are chosen. Then again a care- 
less electorate deeming these "minor" of- 
fices of little consequence, seldom takes the 
trouble to vote on them. As a result, the 
same old gang has little trouble returning 
itself year after year. 

The power attained by these coteries be- 
comes such that public officials dare not at- 
tempt to dislodge them. Mention a corrupt 
election board in his bailiwick to any alder- 
man and he is likely to beg you to discuss 
some more pleasant subject. He knows 
that should he attempt to interfere with 
their prerogatives, he would be marked for 



62 Reclaiming the Ballot 

slaughter at the very next election. One 
public official when spoken to in this regard 
and asked if he did not wish to be elected 
honestly, replied, "Yes — but I want to be 
elected." The fact is that the public of- 
ficials are afraid of these corrupt election 
boards and their friends. And they are not 
a bit fearful of the activities of the so-called 
good citizen. Governing bodies of our large 
cities often refuse to investigate notorious 
conditions in election methods. Why.f^ Be- 
cause they fear for their official lives. And 
whom they fear they serve. Make no mis- 
take about that. 

As an example of the overweening power 
of a really scientifically controlled district, 
this incident is illuminating. A certain can- 
didate, hearing that he was not to be favored 
by the support of the precinct boss, tried to 
create a division by securing the support of 
the boss's leading rival. The boss heard of 
it as usual, squared matters with his rival, 
and sent for the recalcitrant candidate. To 
him he said: "Mr. Smith, you have chal- 
lenged my prestige in this precinct. You 
have dared to say that I'm not the boss 



Defeating the People's Will 63 

down here. Just to show you that this is 
my precinct, that I own it, and every vote 
in it, I am going to make a little prediction. 
You will receive two votes, no more, no less. 
If you receive one or three, you will know 
that I am not in full control, but if you get 
two, you will know that I am the boss." It 
is hardly necessary to say that Mr. Smith 
received exactly two votes. The precinct 
in which this occurred never gives more 
than a dozen or so votes for a candidate the 
boss dislikes. 

Why a precinct is controlled and what 
the board members get out of it to justify 
their efforts is not always apparent. Often, 
no doubt, it is a straightforward cash prop- 
osition, the chairman being paid a certain 
sum to "deliver" the precinct, this amount 
being divided among those in the deal. 
Very many estimable gentlemen who place 
large campaign funds in the hands of cam- 
paign managers would be greatly surprised 
to learn the ultimate destination of the 
money. The campaign manager euphemis- 
tically refers to his "influence" with "Spi- 
der" Ryan, "BaWy" Schmidt and "Slug- 



64 Reclaiming the Ballot 

ger" Kelly, in explanation of the ease with 
which his candidate carried these precincts. 

In other cases, certain minor offices — 
clerkships, inspectorships, any one of a 
host of appointments may be given in re- 
turn for the activity in election work. And 
whatever the motive, sufficient or not, the 
fact remains that a great vote-stealing 
organization exists in probably every one 
of our large cities, that it is strongly en- 
trenched and that the people are not greatly 
concerned about it; or if they were once 
concerned, have lost interest through re- 
peated failure to improve conditions. 

It is presumed, both by the electorate in 
general and by the law, that the purity of 
the election is maintained by the presence 
of challengers and witnesses. Possibly, this 
is sometimes the case, but not often in the 
case of a controllable precinct. When it is 
possible to corrupt an election board, it is 
also possible to do likewise with the wit- 
nesses and challengers. Challengers are 
frequently like desirable chaperones — noted 
for what they do not see. The power to is- 
sue challenge cards is almost invariably in 



Defeating the People's Will 65 

the hands of practical politicians, the city 
and county chairmen of the various political 
parties. They are often in sympathy or 
even actual alliance with the corrupt boards 
and always willing to play the game as they 
find it. Recognition of challengers is under 
the jurisdiction of the election board. The 
chairman may accept some and reject 
others. Those who are rejected have their 
redress in the courts, but by the time the 
court has moved in the matter that said 
witness had a proper right in said voting- 
booth, the election is over and hostilities de- 
ferred to another occasion. Even where the 
law is stringent in regard to the necessity of 
allowing challengers to be present, there is 
usually a loophole in the form of a provi- 
sion that any person obstructing the voting 
may be removed at the discretion of the 
board. "Any person" includes a challenger 
and if the board decides that the election 
booth is crowded so that voting is obstruct- 
ed, challengers may easily be ejected with a 
color of justice. The small size of the voting 
places in most cities gives some little justi- 
fication for this practice. Occasionally, 



66 Reclaiming the Ballot 

without parley or excuse, the hostile chal- 
lenger is ordered to leave, and should he fail 
to do so, is summarily ejected. Sometimes 
this is done with the assistance of the forces 
of law and order, police officials taking the 
position that the election board has been 
chosen by the people and should be in en- 
tire control. In such cases, police officers 
are instructed to obey the chairman's 
orders. 

Reform in the matter of laws more care- 
fully protecting the ballot will not be easy 
to achieve. Public officials do not wish to 
end their political careers by running 
counter to the wishes of the gang. Efforts 
to improve conditions must be earnest and 
persistent. When the politician learns that 
he has as much to fear from the good citizen 
as he has from the crooked vote manipula- 
tor, he will respect him as much. The first 
work will be to arouse people from their 
apathy and from their view of politics as a 
game. 



CHAPTER V 

THE URGENT NEED OF BALLOT REFORM 

REFORM of our ballot system should 
precede all other reforms. Until we 
reconstruct our manner of nominating and 
electing officers, and registering the people's 
will in regard to measures submitted to 
them, many other reforms are not only use- 
less, but highly dangerous. ^ If unscrupu- 
lous politicians can manipulate voting and 
counting to suit their will, the more power 
we give to the ballot, the more power do we 
place in their hands. Ways and means 
must be provided by which the people may 
have the benefit of intelligent discussion of 
the various issues and a method provided by 
which the expression may be honestly re- 
corded and honestly returned. 

Much has been written and said in prom- 
ise of what the direct primary would do if 



68 Reclaiming the Ballot 

once placed in active operation. Much has 
been said in opposition. It is not the pur- 
pose of this book to attempt to settle this 
phase of the question of good government. 
It is only intended to show here that even 
though the direct primary is fundamentally 
a correct procedure, it is not only useless 
but highly dangerous to operate it as long 
as present methods of casting and counting 
ballots obtain. It has been conceded by 
those who favor direct primaries that they 
give the people the opportunity not only 
to vote a certain ticket, but to have some- 
thing to say in regard to what names go on 
the ticket. A recent writer in cataloguing 
the evils of the old caucus and convention 
system, said:^ 

"A committee appointed by the previous county, 
state or other convention places upon the ballots the 
names of the delegates to the respective conventions. 
The delegates are voted upon at a so-called primary 
election and are almost invariably chosen. These 
irresponsible and practically unknown delegates then 
meet in the state, county, assembly district or other 
convention and under the direction of the boss and 
the committee to whom they owe their nomination, 

^B. P. De Witt, in "The Progressive Movement." 



Urgent Need of Ballot Reform 69 

select candidates for the different offices. How little 
real power can be exercised by a majority of the 
people under such a system need not be pointed out." 

The remedy that it is assumed is pro- 
vided by the direct primary is that it places 
the people rather than the politicians in 
power. It is assumed that under the older 
system delegates were chosen by a few 
party leaders and that these same leaders 
dictated whom the delegates should nomi- 
nate for office. It is assumed that under 
direct primaries, this will be completely 
changed and the professional politician, due 
to lack of power, will cease to exist. Wheth- 
er the direct primary will actually mend 
matters or make them worse may still be 
considered a matter of theory, for the sys- 
tem has hardly been put to a fair test. It is 
obvious that if the machine politicians 
wrongfully manipulate the casting and 
counting of ballots the more power given 
to the voter the more power the active poli- 
tician will possess. Until the crooked gang- 
ster, the vote manipulator, the man higher 
up who assists him and instructs him, the 
higher officials who tolerate him, until these 



70 Reclaiming the Ballot 

have been shorn of their power, it is highly 
dangerous to find new uses for the ballot. 
In answer to critics of the direct primary, 
its sponsors have always said: "You don't 
trust the people." Whether we trust the 
people or not is quite another question from 
whether we trust the crooked vote manipu- 
lator who takes such liberties as he wishes 
with the ballots the people have cast. Un- 
til we have driven him from his position, it 
is the height of folly to place any new 
weapons into his hand. A daily newspaper, 
always a strong champion of the direct pri- 
mary, has this to say of the primary's oper- 
ations under "controlled" precinct rule: 

"That the August primaries were rotten, every- 
one who is informed knows. As a rule the men who 
used money didn't land the nominations, but there 
was rottenness just the same. 

"Too many of the voting precincts of this city are 
under the control of picayune dynasties who pass 
around election inspectorships and chairmanships 
with a view, not to the service they can render a clean 
vote and a straight count, but for the service they 
can render themselves or one of the gang. In these 
precincts it doesn't matter how many voters a can- 
didate may have for him, because it isn't a question 
of VOTERS, but a question of ballots. In those pre- 



Urgent Need of Ballot Reform 71 

cincts the big event of the election Is the count, with 
'assistance to voters in marking ballots' coming a 
close second. 

"There have been instances here of candidates for 
office being also election inspectors, and counting the 
ballots cast in their own contest! 

"Such a situation dispenses with the necessity of 
comment. If two sets of men controlled the books 
and the ballot boxes, affairs might have a less offen- 
sive stench than they now put forth. 

"Better still, if the average voter paid as much 
attention to his vote for the precinct election com- 
mittee as he does to his vote for the candidate for 
higher offices, he would stand a better chance of 
having his votes for higher offices counted. 

"The men who engage in precinct trickery are, of 
necessity, of low class. A number of them are known 
in the criminal life of the city. Others are that 
shoddy company who peddle * influence,' and have 
no other visible means of support. Probably they 
*know an official,' or can *put you next to a job 
somewhere.' Others — the * higher-ups' — are of that 
class of politicians who are wise enough to know 
that *if they don't look they won't see anything.' 
But, taken altogether, they are no more representa- 
tive of the plain citizen who walks into a booth to 
vote than they are fit to handle his sacred ballot. 
There are precincts where it would seem that delib- 
erate effort has been made to pick out the least 
responsible and morally worst men to make up the 
figures that decide the personnel of government, and 
the city's policies. 

"These men must be exposed by name and by 



72 Reclaiming the Ballot 

their practices, and they must be driven out, and 
some public sentiment aroused, or some new system 
devised that shall thrust them into the oblivion 
which has swallowed some other dark political prac- 



As long as it is true that "ballots" and 
not "voters" are counted, it seems a silly 
waste of time to discuss the extension of the 
primary or, indeed, to give attention to any 
reform by means of a ballot system itself 
corrupt from the ground up. 

The initiative has been strongly advo- 
cated by many as the one sure and certain 
means of remedying all the ills the body 
politic is heir to. Whether it is fundamen- 
tally a correct procedure is not the question 
here. It is only necessary to point out how 
highly dangerous it is to further enlarge the 
scope of the initiative until we know to a 
reasonable certainty that dishonest men 
cannot use it by trickery to further their 
nefarious schemes. Let us listen to a strong 
friend of the initiative as he outlines its 
beneficent operation: 

"Where the initiative is in force, the people are 
not entirely dependent upon the state legislatures. 



Urgent Need of Ballot Reform 73 

In many states, no broad, fundamental policy which 
requires a constitutional amendment, can be adopted, 
even though it is favored by a large majority of the 
voters, because everything must begin with the legis- 
lature and the legislature refuses to take the first 
step. The initiative on constitutional amendments 
gives to the people a power that is most elementary 
in a democracy: i. e., the power to fix the funda- 
mental law of the state. That the power of initia- 
tion in this direction has been so completely placed 
in the hands of a few temporary officials is one of the 
wonders and anomalies of our government. Much 
less important, but nevertheless of the greatest value, 
is the right of the people to propose specific laws 
other than amendments. The hands of all the people 
should not be bound so far as legislation is con- 
cerned, because they have selected a few men to 
enact laws. State legislatures should make the great 
bulk of the laws and always will make them, whether 
the initiative is adopted or not; but machine poli- 
ticians and special interests should not, by winning 
over a few hundred legislators, and inducing them to 
do nothing, thwart the wishes of millions to obtain 
some pressing reform through legislation. The initia- 
tive, first of all, recognizes the right of a majority of 
the people to change any law, constitutional or stat- 
utory, whenever they so desire and whether the 
legislature is willing or not." 

The author goes on to enumerate further 
advantages of the initiative. It gives to 
"fairly large minorities the opportunity of 



74 Reclaiming the Ballot 

forcing their demands upon the attention 
of the state." It prevents legislatures from 
emasculating good laws that have been in- 
troduced by friends of reform. It encour- 
ages the individual to take a more active 
interest in legislation. 

In writing of the possible disadvantages 
which have been argued against the initia- 
tive, the author says:^ 

"It is undoubtedly true that under any initiative 
system politicians find no trouble in obtaining the 
signatures necessary to call an election, and although 
the percentage of signatures required should be high 
enough to prevent the election from becoming a nui- 
sance, there is no reason why any body of men 
should not propose any measure, good or bad, for 
public consideration. But while it may be admitted 
that the political machine encounters little difficulty 
in calling an election, it is certain that it encounters 
a great deal in attempting to carry one. Public 
opinion, if given sufficient time and information, can 
ordinarily be trusted to expose a bad measure." 

Here is the nub of the whole matter. The 
author admits that political machines will 
have no trouble in calling the election. 
Then, if the political machine is strongly 

*B. P, De Witt, in "The Progressive Movement." 



Urgent Need of Ballot Reform 75 

entrenched in the election boards, why will 
it have difficulty in carrying the election 
also ? When a large percentage of election 
officials are deputy sheriffs, deputy assess- 
ors, clerks in various city and county offices 
all directly under the domination of the 
machine, it can easily be seen that the ma- 
chine will have considerable to say regard- 
ing the way the votes are counted. It is 
true that it is more difficult to alter a ballot 
voting on a question of "yes" or "no" than 
it is to alter one involving candidates. 
However, it is just as simple a matter to 
"assist" or "instruct" voters in marking 
their ballots, and in this way the corrupt 
voter can be made to deliver the goods. In 
a single precinct in the colored settlement 
of a large city, a challenger reported that 
out of three hundred voters, over two hun- 
dred received assistance or instructions. 
This was invariably from the precinct boss, 
the same man who had earlier rounded up 
these voters and brought them to the polls. 
It is easy to perceive that were this precinct 
boss in favor of any initiative amendment, 
there would be very few "nay" votes re- 



76 Reclaiming the Ballot 

corded on the proposition in his baili- 
wick. 

It is a general practice under the initia- 
tive to submit several propositions at one 
time. Some of these propositions will be 
discussed to a greater or less extent in the 
daily press and among individuals. Others 
will hardly be more than mentioned. The 
average voter will not have pronounced 
convictions on more than half. Few voters 
will have opinions concerning them all. As 
a result many voters will not vote on all of 
the propositions submitted. Feeling that he 
is not informed on the subject and not car- 
ing to risk a wrong expression, the voter 
will pass the matter entirely. This will 
leave a very fertile field for the vote manip- 
ulator. Every blank on the ballot will 
make it possible for him to express his opin- 
ion in a concrete and effective way. A 
clever short-pencil man could quickly fix 
the ballots so that they would be in line 
with his convictions, unless alertness on the 
part of those in the voting house with him 
interfered. 

It may be said that no "important'* 



Urgent Need of Ballot Reform 77 

proposition could be carried or defeated in 
this manner. It is well known, however, 
that "important" officers have been and 
constantly are elected by these underground 
methods. There seems to be no reason why 
a similar condition should not obtain in the 
case of measures. It is far easier to arouse 
heated public opinion regarding the merits 
of candidates, than in the yes or no of any 
given proposition. Even the most critical 
franchise referendum will not bring out the 
voters as will a sharply contested mayoral- 
ty campaign. There is little reason to 
doubt that by a judicious use of "in- 
structed" voters and the full possession of 
the counting processes, the machine could 
put through any measure, except where 
public opinion was at least seventy-five 
per cent, decisive on one side or the other. 
The balance of power is plainly in the hands 
of the controlled districts and that it will be 
used is inevitable. 

Then very much depends upon what we 
term "important." Perhaps in the case of 
a heated franchise fight where public opin- 
ion is strongly alert and where a large pro- 



78 Reclaiming the Ballot 

portion of the registered voters come out, 
it may be difficult for the manipulators to 
accomplish their object. Indeed, they do 
not expect to win all battles. Once in a 
while, the situation is too cumbersome to 
handle. They well know that the time will 
come when the people are quiescent and 
when it will be safe to *'put something 
over.'' There are few propositions put on 
the ballot by the initiative process or that 
are submitted to a referendum that are not 
of considerable importance. Many involve 
large expenditures of money. Many make 
radical changes in terms of offices and the 
powers conferred upon the incumbents. To 
leave such *' unimportant" problems to set- 
tlement by a manipulated vote and a fraud- 
ulent count, largely in the interests of those 
involved, is highly dangerous. 

The case of the recall is somewhat simi- 
lar. It has been assumed by those favoring 
the recall that it will be used only in the 
best interests of the whole people in getting 
rid of an undesirable incumbent or in so 
controlling public officials that fear of its 
operation will keep them in the path of 



Urgent Need of Ballot Reform 79 

rectitude. It has never been considered for 
a moment that the recall may be operated 
by evil men for evil purposes to recall good 
men from office. It has been presumed that 
if a prosecuting attorney fails to enforce the 
law, the people may recall him and dismiss 
him from office. Suppose, however, that a 
prosecuting officer does his duty in a more 
rigorous manner than the machine poli- 
ticians expect or consider desirable. There 
is nothing whatever to prevent their secur- 
ing petitions for his recall and by means of 
their control of the voting processes actu- 
ally ousting him from office, even in the 
face of popular approval of his course of 
action. It has been assumed that the recall 
will inspire a certain fear in public officials, 
who, realizing that their terms may be 
brought to sudden end, will be the more 
likely to do right from fear when possibly 
they might not do so as a matter of con- 
science. If this contention of the admirers 
of the recall is true, that public officials fear 
the power that puts them into office and 
will do nothing to antagonize that power 
because of the threatened recall, what do 



8o Reclaiming the Ballot 

we find when we consider that in so many 
cases officers owe their positions to a ma- 
chine vote and a controlled count? Is it 
not apparent, then, that they will fear those 
who control the voting and the counting? 
Without the recall, they might be more or 
less independent during the interval be- 
tween elections, but with the recall hanging 
over their heads, would they ever dare to 
disobey the power that might remove them ? 
Could a prosecuting attorney bring to trial 
political grafters and still hope to remain 
in office in a county where the grafters con- 
trol the voting and the counting? 

So with the recall of judicial decisions. 
It has been assumed that the recall would 
be utilized only to recall bad decisions. 
There is no reason to believe that brave de- 
cisions might not likewise be recalled if they 
did injury to any component part of the 
machine or its supporters. 

All of this is set forth not to condemn the 
initiative, the referendum or the recall, 
whether of officers or of judges' decisions, 
or to set aside efforts in the direction of a 
direct primary, Svich questions do not 



Urgent Need of Ballot Reform 8i 

come within the scope of the writer's pres- 
ent purpose. The intention is to show that 
the reform of the ballot must precede all 
other reforms; that placing more power in 
the voters' hands is not only not likely to 
prove beneficial, but may very well prove 
decidedly harmful, until we see to it that 
the votes are honestly cast and honestly 
counted. A corrupt vote ties our hands in 
the presence of any other possible step in 
advance. It keeps honest men from the 
polls, because they have little assurance that 
their votes will be counted as they record 
them. 

Very often it is said that it is shameful 
that Mr. So-and-So, who proved so flat a 
failure in office, whether from incompetence 
or dishonesty, should have been re-elected. 
The fact of the matter is that it is alto- 
gether likely he never was re-elected. He 
was merely counted in. More than prob- 
ably, he himself controlled many of the 
election boards, possibly even was chairman 
of one himself. The outsider had little or 
no chance to dislodge him. 

Those who believe, therefore, in the ef- 



82 Reclaiming the Ballot 

ficacy of the ballot to effect reform, who 
believe that the people will make right de- 
cisions once given the chance, should band 
themselves together to see that the people 
have a chance to vote honestly and to have 
their votes correctly counted. It is the 
height of folly to talk about the infallible 
righteousness of the voice of the people, 
that in the long run the people are always 
right, that if the people choose wrongly the 
people will themselves suffer and so be led 
to rectify the error; it is useless seriously 
to consider these things when the verdict of 
the people may be, and all too often is, 
the verdict of an unscrupulous politician 
equipped with secrecy and the ever-efficient 
short pencil. 



CHAPTER VI 

CONSERVATIVE REFORM 

MOVEMENTS looking toward the cor- 
rection of ballot abuses will need, first 
of all, to arouse the interest of the people. 
It will be necessary to convince them that 
wrong is being done and that it is a solemn 
duty to take such steps as seem to promise 
a betterment of conditions. 

Even under our present system, it is 
easily possible to frame laws which, if en- 
forced, would greatly mitigate the evil as 
far as corrupt voting and corrupt counting 
are concerned. For those who do not deem 
the time ripe for any wider reform of our 
civic processes, it may be well to consider 
what may be done to insure an honest vote 
and an honest count. Surely all men who 
have the faintest spark of Americanism in 
them must believe that this is desirable. 



84 Reclaiming the Ballot 

It will be necessary to drastically curb 
the wide use of instruction and assistance 
for the voter. In a previous chapter, we 
gave some hint as to the corrupt use that is 
made of the apparently innocent stipulation 
that the voter may under certain circum- 
stances receive instruction or aid from of- 
ficers of election. All too often it seems 
that practically entire election precincts be- 
come suddenly lame, halt or blind. A large 
number of votes can be and are absolutely 
controlled by the men who handle the as- 
sisted and instructed voters. Election dis- 
tricts where such assistance is rendered to 
a large proportion of voters almost invari- 
ably report heavy majorities for certain 
candidates and not usually those which can 
be termed the most desirable. As to how 
far the practice of aiding voters should be 
allowed is a matter of wide difference of 
opinion. Many believe that no assistance 
should ever be rendered under any circum- 
stances. They hold that the voter should be 
handed a ballot and that the responsibility 
for its use then rests entirely upon him. If 
he cannot read it, so much the worse for 



Conservative Reform 85 

him, and so much the better for the state. 
According to this view, the very few voters 
who are deprived of their ballots because of 
actual physical disability should be sacri- 
ficed for the benefit of the fraud that can 
be thus barred out. Others believe that 
only those whose physical disability, such 
as blindness or paralysis, is obvious, should 
be assisted, and these only under oath and 
with a special record kept of the assistance 
and the nature of the disability. Still 
others believe that aid should be granted il- 
literate voters but only under oath and with 
a careful record made of the voter's name 
and request for assistance. It would seem 
that any man who cannot read the ticket 
that is placed before him is obviously unfit 
for the task of making any intelligent choice. 
The best thought on the subject seems to be 
that no assistance should be given the illit- 
erate, and that if this results in a light vote 
among that class, it will be advantageous 
rather than otherwise. The general tend- 
ency, it would seem, lies in the direction 
of the elimination of the illiterate voter. 
Apart from this, it is highly important 



86 Reclaiming the Ballot 

that rigid regulation of the process of assist- 
ance be enforced. The disability must be 
manifest, the act of assistance must be per- 
formed in the presence of witnesses, and a 
record kept of the cases where assistance 
was given. Failure to comply with these 
provisions must constitute a misdemeanor 
and be punishable. 

It is important that legislation in the in- 
terest of honest voting should prohibit the 
incumbents of elective and appointive posi- 
tions from serving as officers of election. 
Ordinarily, election boards are packed with 
various minor job-holders, who plainly rec- 
ognize that the "boss" expects them to 
"deliver the goods" on election day. The 
evils of the situation are so manifest that 
they hardly require argument. They re- 
quire drastic action. Keep the office-holder 
off your election boards. 

Laws regulating the conduct of elections 
should provide means by which the regis- 
tration may be checked up. Very loose 
methods now very generally obtain and reg- 
istration books are loaded up with the 
names of dead men, absentees and those 



Conservative Reform 87 

who have removed to other precincts. A 
simple method to prove the correctness of 
registration lists is to mail a letter to each 
of the names on the book. Such letters as 
are returned marked "not at" or "'address 
unknown" it would seem would furnish 
material for investigation, if indeed this 
should not warrant formally erasing the 
names from the registration list. Letters 
sent out by a civic organiztaion to a list of 
voters in a certain city precinct as given by 
the registration book conclusively proved 
that a goodly number did not reside at the 
place given on the list. Yet municipalities 
generally make little effort to prove these 
lists of registration, and whatever has been 
done has been the work of various civic 
organizations. There does seem to be a 
change coming, however, and already at 
least one city has recognized that its voting 
list ought to be free of error and fraud and 
is taking steps to verify the books of regis- 
tration. All cities should do so. The cost 
will be little in comparison with the benefit 
derived. 

The rights of the public in general and of 



88 Reclaiming the Ballot 

challengers in particular should be carefully 
safeguarded. It is not enough that the 
various political parties should have the 
right to appoint challengers and witnesses. 
Too often, such challengers can be rendered 
entirely harmless by a little family arrange- 
ment. Then, too, challengers appointed by 
the politicians in control will only challenge 
when their particular bosses' interests are 
invaded. In a word, they are not safe- 
guarding the purity of the ballot, but only 
endeavoring to maintain the rights of their 
own superiors. The right to appoint chal- 
lengers must also be allowed to the various 
civic organizations whose objects include 
the purity of the ballot. The most rigid 
safeguards should maintain the rights of 
these challengers, and they should be ac- 
corded privileges sufficient to make them as 
well informed in regard to what is taking 
place as any member of the election board. 
It must be made a misdemeanor for any 
election officer or any policeman to inter- 
fere with the challenger in the performance 
of, his duty. Challengers appointed under 
an act as outlined above were stationed in 



Conservative Reform 89 

the election booths in a recent Detroit elec- 
tion. They made note of the name and ad- 
dress of every man offering to vote and 
with the protection of the law watched 
throughout the casting and counting of the 
ballots. Expert observers stated that, as a 
result, the election was the fairest held in 
years. It will be seen, therefore, that it 
will be necessary not only for the law to 
protect challengers, but it will also be es- 
sential that public-spirited citizens should 
volunteer for this highly important and fre- 
quently very disagreeable duty. 

Besides the challengers and witnesses, it 
is desirable that the process of counting be 
made as much a public matter as possible. 
It is a natural thing for the neighbors to 
desire to drop in and see how their precinct 
is going. This desire ought to be fostered 
rather than discouraged. This leads us to 
a point that must be sufficiently obvious. 
Our polling booths do not permit of this to 
any degree. There may be room for the 
prescribed challengers, though hardly that, 
but none at all for the general public. It 
would almost seem, therefore, that any rad- 



90 Reclaiming the Ballot 

ical reform of our ballot system should in- 
clude a more commodious and better- 
equipped polling house. In the next chap- 
ter we will try to set forth something of the 
possibilities in this direction. Here we have 
attempted only to show what seems to be 
absolutely necessary to honest voting and 
honest counting and what can be put into 
operation without any great change in our 
present equipment. This far at least all 
ought to be willing to go. 



CHAPTER VII 

THE PRECINCT CIVIC CENTER 

THERE are many, however, who believe 
that something far more radical in the 
way of change is necessary in our processes 
of voting than will result in even the best 
laws enforced under our present equipment. 
It will be possible, though difficult, to se- 
cure an honest election even in our port- 
able voting boxes; but it will not be pos- 
sible to bring about several other reforms 
that are almost as necessary. As Mr. Ed- 
ward J. Ward so well points out in his 
splendid book, "The Social Center," we 
Americans are accustomed to thinking of 
our government as something above us, 
ruling over us. The seat of government, 
to most of us, is the Capitol at Washington, 
the state house or the city hall. Properly, 
the center of government is the precinct 



92 Reclaiming the Ballot 

voting house. We think little of spending 
millions for elaborate Halls of Congress, 
state capitols, municipal buildings; but our 
precinct voting centers, the real common 
ground of American institutions, must be 
housed in barber shops, livery stables, or 
iron boxes set up in the street ! 

Besides assuring an honest casting and 
counting of ballots, a voting reform pro- 
gram should provide means by which voters 
may easily come into touch with all candi- 
dates and learn the arguments for and 
against the various proposed measures; a 
way should be opened for intelligent dis- 
cussion of the issues of the campaign by the 
voters themselves, thus arousing civic spirit 
in the average man. This cannot be done 
without a fundamental change in present 
election methods. Such a change will no 
doubt cost money. Professional politicians 
do not always wish to spend any money in 
this direction. Even the most wasteful ad- 
ministration will hold up its hands in holy 
horror at the very idea of "wicked extrav- 
agance" in the direction of ballot reform. 
Many cannot see any good reason why the 



The Precinct Civic Center 93 

people, as a government, ought to spend 
any real money in endeavoring to safeguard 
their most precious possession, the ballot. 
This idea is often sedulously cultivated by 
those in office who, having been the ben- 
eficiaries of the present order, euphemisti- 
cally style themselves conservative and 
place obstacles in the way of any change, 
particularly any change involving the expen- 
diture of money. Public officials who have 
piled up taxes mountain high in a hundred 
directions are shocked at the idea of putting 
electric lights into election booths. 

Nevertheless, there are many of us who 
believe that a fundamental change in elec- 
tion methods is not only necessary, but de- 
sirable. The program which we are about 
to consider gives every prospect of accom- 
plishing the essential purposes we have set 
forth. It will make it comparatively easy 
for every voter to come into personal con- 
tact with many of the candidates. It will 
provide means for a general discussion. It 
will do away with such power in politics as 
the saloon possesses by reason of its being 
the accustomed meeting place; and it will 



94 Reclaiming the Ballot 

thereby relieve the office-holders of the bur- 
den of obligation to the saloon men and 
from any necessity of being unduly respon- 
sive to their wishes. Most of all, it will re- 
lieve the candidate for office from a consid- 
erable amount of the expense he now incurs. 
It is true that a part of this expense — 
though we believe only a small part — ^will 
be transferred to the taxpayers. A large 
portion will be eliminated. If there is any 
object under the sun better worth spending 
money for than to secure competent and 
honest public servants, we do not know 
what it is. It is better to spend a little 
money in discriminating selection than to 
risk dishonesty and incompetence by hap- 
hazard methods. Prevailing conditions in 
regard to casting and counting ballots 
would be greatly improved under the pro- 
posed program, though it could not be 
guaranteed that all crookedness and error 
would be immediately eliminated. No 
scheme could possibly assure that desirable 
result. 

The proposed program contemplates noth- 
ing less than a complete civic center in each 



The Precinct Civic Center 95 

election precinct, housed in a permanent 
building, properly equipped for the impor- 
tant work to be undertaken. There are two 
ways of accomplishing this. The first one is 
to utilize the public school buildings by 
making the school district and the election 
precinct coincide. The best opinion on the 
subject seems to consider the school as the 
logical and best-fitted place for such a pre- 
cinct center. Certainly economy recom- 
mends it. The buildings are there and they 
are idle much of the time when they would 
be needed for civic purposes. It would re- 
quire considerable alterations of present dis- 
trict boundaries to place a school house in 
each election precinct, but new school build- 
ings could be located with this in mind. It 
would be necessary to have well-equipped 
auditoriums in all new school buildings; 
while in those already constructed, a large 
class room could be made adaptable to this 
purpose. 

The other alternative provides for a 
special building for civic center purposes. 
It would be more expensive. Whether more 
desirable or not i§ open to difference of 



96 Reclaiming the Ballot 

opinion. The author of "The Social Cen- 
ter" believes that the very institution of 
the school house inspires the reverence and 
respect with which we ought to approach 
civic problems. It is quite possible that a 
building devoted to civic purposes might in- 
spire similar respect when put to use, and 
its dedication to this purpose would, no 
doubt, interest many in the purpose itself. 
With the large increase in the public play- 
ground movement, it will be an easy, nat- 
ural step to the public work-shop move- 
ment. Here the great American people 
could be provided with the tools necessary 
for their great task of self-government. 
These tools they do not now possess and it 
is little wonder that perfection in govern- 
ment is not attained under the conditions. 
This civic center might very well be worked 
in conjunction with the play-grounds, and 
wherever space was available, the building 
could occupy a portion of the lot. It is 
manifest that the demand for public play- 
grounds will constantly increase. The man 
who is five miles from the municipal tennis 
CQurt will insist upon the same privileges a^ 



The Precinct Civic Center 97 

the man who has one in the next block. The 
American public is showing a great liking 
for the municipal play-ground and this is 
well and good. When the man who can- 
not afford the dues of expensive clubs en- 
joys himself on a city tennis court, he real- 
izes that his city is doing something for him. 
The community spirit is encouraged and out 
of such public movements there is sure to 
come a fine feeling of partnership in the 
community. It may safely be predicted 
that the people will not allow their play- 
grounds to be taken from them. Rather 
they will insist upon having more and more 
of them. It will thus be seen that the pre- 
cinct civic center might very well work in 
with the play-grounds. These as now con- 
stituted are practically limited to out-door 
sports. In connection with the civic center 
building, facilities for in-door enjoyment 
might be maintained: a bowling alley, bil- 
liard and game room, a gymnasium and a 
reading room. Every argument that pre- 
vails for the out-door play-ground is equally 
strong for the in-door equipment. 

It will be seen that while the above con- 



98 Reclaiming the Ballot 

templates a separate building for each elec- 
tion precinct, the idea can easily be adapted 
to suit those who believe that the school 
house should be used. Whether an espe- 
cially built civic center is used, or a school 
house properly equipped for the purpose, is 
a matter of detail to be settled by the practi- 
cal conditions and economic considerations. 
The main thing is that such a civic center be 
provided in every election precinct. 

The civic center must contain a room 
capable of seating at least three hundred 
persons. This auditorium should also be 
used for election purposes. During the cam- 
paign, political meetings should be adver- 
tised for certain evenings. These meetings 
should be presided over by the duly elected 
precinct chairman. The precinct secretary 
should send invitations to all political 
parties and an announcement to every voter 
in the precinct. No political party should 
have jurisdiction over any meeting or any 
part of any meeting nor be allowed to pay 
any of the expenses, excepting the fee of any 
professional speakers who are employed. It 
will be the precinct chairman's duty to see 



The Precinct Civic Center 99 

that speakers are provided by the various 
political parties and to introduce them, 
without undue praise, to the gathering. 
When it is learned that a political meeting 
is to be held in one's own neighborhood, 
that it will be held in a desirable place and 
that speakers of various opinions will be 
heard, the voters will be easily induced to 
attend. It should be provided that either 
at these general meetings or at special meet- 
ings designated for the purpose, or both, 
the general public may be given oppor- 
tunity to discuss the various issues. It may 
very well be that prominent men living in 
the precinct will have light to cast upon 
some matter of public importance and will 
welcome the opportunity of addressing 
their friends and neighbors. Such an oppor- 
tunity ought surely to be provided under 
our scheme of self-government. At pres- 
ent, little attention is given to this phase of 
community life. It is essential to correct 
action that deliberation precede decision. 
We do not now provide for deliberation ex- 
cept such as the individual voter may devote 
to the subject. 



loo Reclaiming the Ballot 

Out of these meetings would arise genu- 
ine candidacies for office. A man's neigh- 
bors would recognize in him qualities that 
make him superior to his fellows and there 
would come of it a spontaneous desire to 
have him serve his city in some capacity. 
Here we would have a real case of the office 
seeking the man and choice for public po- 
sition based upon knowledge of ability. The 
precinct members would voluntarily sign 
petitions to make their favorite a candidate. 
Eventually, he might become alderman, 
mayor or city treasurer because his fellow 
citizens wanted him to. The demand for 
his candidacy would arise outside of him- 
self. It would naturally originate in the 
desire upon the part of the people to place 
a good man in a suitable position, for the 
benefit of all. These precinct meetings 
would reveal the exceptional man and give 
him opportunity to reveal his qualities. 
How different is our present procedure! In 
ninety-five cases out of a hundred, the man's 
candidacy for office originates with himself. 
He wants to be school inspector or alder- 
man or constable and his motive most fre- 



The Precinct Civic. Geiitet loi 

quently concerns selfish advantage for him- 
self. Money, power, position, publicity or 
other real or imagined benefit for himself is 
usually the mainspring of the candidate's 
ambition. He himself sets in motion the 
machinery looking toward his nomination. 
He either hires a professional to secure sig- 
natures for his nominating petition or he 
solicits them himself. Frequently his name 
is placed upon the ballot by means of a 
monetary fee. After the nomination, he 
spends whatever sums he may have at his 
command to advertise himself into office. 
In all this, there has been nothing that re- 
motely resembles *'the office seeking the 
man," nothing that would direct the can- 
didate's mind to view a public office as a 
public trust. Rather, if he attains the office, 
he inclines to think of it as a personal pos- 
session. He had "worked hard enough to 
get it." That this point of view is only too 
prevalent is well known to all who have 
studied the subject. That it is absolutely 
opposed to a healthy state of government 
ought to be evident to all. With the public 
service a natural field for prey, it is not to be 



I02 Reclaiming the Ballot 

wondered at that we have not attained bet- 
ter results. Such terms as " the pie-counter " 
and "the trough," when applied to public 
office are only too appropriate. 

One of the strong points of the scheme of 
precinct civic meetings is that it would 
surely tend to improve matters in this re- 
spect. Men of modesty and reserve who 
would never suggest themselves for office 
would be brought forward. Moreover, stu- 
dents of economics and political economy 
who now have little opportunity of making 
their talents useful, would become of genu- 
ine service to the community. The ancient 
art of the debate, now utilized only in the 
more or less sham battle of the school con- 
test, would be revived in real earnest. 

Precinct meetings of this type would also 
provide a means by which the office-holder 
could keep in touch with his constituents. 
The alderman's present alleged representa- 
tion of the people is more or less mythical. 
After his election, he is really entirely free 
to vote as he pleases. He has no way of 
sounding the people's judgment should he 
wish to do so. The recall itself would prob- 



The Precinct Civic Center 103 

ably be used only when an issue of the great- 
est importance was at stake. Moreover, the 
recall does not attempt to guide the office- 
holder in voting according to the wishes of 
the people, but only to punish him when he 
fails to do so. In these meetings, there 
would be the public discussion which not 
only brings out general opinion, but forms 
it and crystallizes it. The man who opposes 
some project because of a single weakness 
will become more favorably disposed when 
he learns of compensating good points. Im- 
provements will be suggested which will 
make the proposition more satisfactory to 
every one. The office-holder will be able to 
receive a direct mandate from his people 
and will thus become truly representative. 
As it is now, he overhears some one voicing 
an opinion on the street car, and if the view- 
point coincides with his own, he will aver 
that his constituents favor this procedure 
or oppose it, as the case may be. 

These precinct meetings will do a great 
deal of direct good in connection with the 
topics discussed. They will do even more 
good to the people taking part in them 



104 Reclaiming the Ballot 

who will begin to feel that they have a 
real, an actual part in government. Their 
counsels, as well as their votes, have been 
sought. Government has become a vital 
concern because it has come down where 
they live. They are a part of it. 

Glance for a moment at prevailing condi- 
tions in cases where public questions are to 
be settled by the vote of the people. Usu- 
ally, there is absolutely no provision made 
for any discussion of the subject. What- 
ever discussion does arise is casual, acciden- 
tal and often with a great deal of bias. 
Newspapers line up on opposing sides of a 
question without regard to the merits of the 
proposition itself. It is a foregone conclu- 
sion often that when one paper takes a 
stand in favor of any proposition, its rival 
will oppose it. In such cases, discussion in 
the public press becomes of the most parti- 
san character. Nothing is printed that is 
detrimental to the viewpoint chosen and 
the reader must be satisfied with a one- 
sided view of the question. It is often pos- 
sible accurately to forecast a voter's leanings 
on a given issue by learning which news- 



The Precinct Civic Center 105 

paper he reads. At any rate, whether a 
newspaper's views are honestly held, as is 
no doubt usually the case, or whether they 
represent prejudice and self-interest, it is 
evident that newspapers do not and can- 
not furnish sufficient means for a thorough 
discussion. Nor are newspapers under the 
slightest obligation to provide this educa- 
tion for the public. If they should, at any 
time, deem it wise to pay less attention to 
matters political, nothing could be done to 
enjoin them from doing so. We are at pres- 
ent practically without substitute for their 
efforts. 

Nothing less than the open forum will 
serve such a purpose. Large meetings by 
their very nature do not readily lend them- 
selves to discussions. In the small, precinct 
meeting, where a man meets his friends and 
neighbors, we will have the nearest possible 
approach to the old-time New England 
town-meeting, need for which is so greatly 
felt in our modern political life. 

To sum up some of its advantages, we 
see that these small, precinct meetings held 
under entirely non-partisan conditions would 



io6 Reclaiming the Ballot 

do much to bring about these necessary im- 
provements: the voter would more gener- 
ally come into actual contact with the can- 
didates for office, not only those of his own 
party, but others as well; there would be 
an opportunity to discuss the points at issue 
informally; men especially fitted for public 
office would naturally be brought out; 
choice for public office would originate oth- 
erwise than with the candidate himself; 
office-holders would have opportunity to 
test the public pulse; the people would feel 
themselves to be participants in the gov- 
ernment and would, therefore, take more 
interest in it. 

What this program of civic centers would 
do for the honesty of the casting and count- 
ing of the ballot is of the utmost importance. 
It is obvious that much will depend upon 
the co-operation of the voters. No scheme 
can be contrived that will work spontane- 
ously. There are no self-starters in the field 
of reform. The best-conceived proceeding 
can do little more than to put it within the 
power of the people to protect themselves. 
The proposed program would give power to 



The Precinct Civic Center 107 

the people to watch the proceedings and to 
interfere with crooked practices. This 
power they now lack. After the closing of 
the polls, the election officials may clear the 
booth if they see fit. This is not usually 
done and friends of the board at least are 
allowed to remain, but a controlled board 
can easily find a pretext for insisting upon 
secrecy. The proposed program would not 
only take it for granted that the general 
public should witness the counting. Even 
now the law assumes that. The civic cen- 
ter would make it possible to carry out the 
idea. At present, the election is nowhere 
near enough of a public matter. Too often, 
it is strictly a private affair. If the election 
board chooses to lock itself in the election 
booth, outsiders can do nothing to assure a 
correct count, however much they may de- 
sire to do so. The precinct civic house 
would provide a room large enough so that 
the public generally could follow the count. 
There would be plenty of room for neces- 
sary challengers. The handling of assisted 
voters could be done in the open and all 
could see whether or not the law were 



io8 Reclaiming the Ballot 

obeyed. Beyond this, it would be up to the 
people of the precinct to insist upon right- 
eousness in the count. The auditorium elec- 
tion room gives promise of giving the people 
real power over the processes of election. 
Furthermore, the precinct center provides 
a means by which civic interest can be 
aroused so that the people will want to 
watch these processes. We can see no other 
hope for a healthier municipal life in 
America than a new political scheme which 
will bring the American voters into co- 
operative relations with each other and with 
their public officers, a new plan that will 
insure deliberation before decision. The 
plan of the precinct civic center, utilizing 
the school houses or specially constructed 
buildings in connection with play-ground 
activities, seems to offer the best chance of 
success in this direction. Until the people 
achieve some means of properly selecting 
candidates and of making known their will, 
it is absurd to characterize our city govern- 
ment as " the people's rule." 

The day will come when these public 
forums will open the door for both the 



The Precinct Civic Center 109 

native-born and the foreigner in our midst, 
to a real citizenship, a genuine co-operat- 
ing partnership in this great country of 
ours. 



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