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|Outline of and Arguements in Favor of the Postal Direct Primary.
By Senator L. H. Roseberry, Who Introduced the Postal Direct Primary Bill at the Session of 1909.
In order to understand the full purpose and effect of the proposed Postal Direct Primary law, it is necessary to ascertain the purpose of any system of nominations by a Direct Primary.
The sole complaint against the present system of nominations by conventions is based upon the objection that party nominations are made by a few interested parties, and that the popular choice is absolutely ignored. To remedy this evil the system of direct nominations by the voters has been suggested at primary elections. It therefore follows that that system, or primary, which will get out the largest number of votes or the greatest expression of the people on the choice of candidates is, of necessity, the best primary law. If it is true that all present direct primaries, which provide for voting at a certain time and place in person, in the form that general elections are now conducted, only draw out a little over one-half of the registered vote of all parties, it then follows beyond question, that all present direct primary laws are only half successful. Upon an examination of statistics gathered from the various States in which direct primary laws are now in operation, it is seen that only 55% to 60% of the registered vote within those States has ever been cast at any single primary election. For instance, at the primary election held in the State of Oregon in the fall of 1908, 55% of the registered Republican vote was cast, and less than 25% of the Democratic vote. In the State of Washington about 57% of the registered vote was cast in 1908, the only vote yet taken under the new Direct Primary law. In the State of Wisconsin, while 60% of the total registered vote was cast in 1906, only a little over 40% was cast at the primary election held In the year 1908. Other statistics could be offered from all the other States, having the direct primary system of nominations, from which it would appear that practically a little over 55% or even less of the registered vote has been secured at any direct primary election. Therefore, based upon these figures, it becomes patent that the present form of direct nominations, to wit: voting at a certain time and place in person only, under the same rules and regulations as at general elections, is only half successful.
It was for the purpose of bringing out at least a part of this great unvoted 45% of qualified electors, to take a part in naming the candidates who should go before the people at the general elections, that the Postal Direct Primary law was conceived.
While there is no present example of the working of a system of direct nominations through a ballot cast through the mails for public officials, there are a number of instances in which ballots are being taken by mail with wonderful success and completeness. Formerly, labor unions, fraternal societies, chambers of commerce, Granger organizations, alumni associations, and other civic, religious and benevolent associations, balloted on propositions submitted to their membership in the form that primary and general elections are now held in public elections. The vote secured from their memberships was so meager and unsatisfactory that the system of voting by mail was inaugurated, and with such splendid results, that now it is being used exclusively by a majority of the above organizations, as a method of voting upon propositions and officers coming before them for election. Where only 10% to 15% of the votes were cast under the old plan of voting in person at a particular time and place, 75%, and even 90% of the votes are now cast through the mails, and it is significant to note that the plan of voting by mail has been found by the organizations using it to be free from any objections. This fact, together with the unanimous vote cast, led to the idea of casting votes by mail at direct primaries for the nomination of public officers by political parties. The system that has been proposed is extremely simple, and it appears highly reasonable and practicable. A short outline of the provisions of the bill will assist in an understanding of the arguments offered in its favor and those advanced to refute the objections urged against this Postal Direct Primary Act.
In the first place, each elector, at the time of registering, declares his party allegiance, and this is entered upon his original affidavit of registration. At the same time, he is given a party voting number, which is written or printed upon his affidavit of registration. The Secretary of State, every four years, declares the color of ballots to be used by each party separately. For instance, all Republican ballots throughout the State, at every election must be printed upon pink colored paper and none other; the Democratic ballot upon white colored paper and none other, and so on among the other political parties.
In order for a candidate's name to be proposed to go on to the primary ballot, it must be proposed by a prescribed number of qualified electors, within the district in which that candidate is to be elected, which names must be subscribed to a verified petition. This entitles the candidate's name to be printed upon the primary ballot. Within ten days before the primary, or return day, the clerk of the board or body which is delegated by law to prepare for election matters must print, prepare and send out, primary election ballots for each separate political party through the United States mails in the following manner: To each elector within the jurisdiction is mailed a plain unmarked envelope, addressed to the business or home address of each separate elector, containing a self-addressed and stamped return envelope, returnable to the Board of Election of that precinct, together with one party primary election ballot, for the use of that elector. If the elector happens to be a Republican the color of his ballot will be pink, and only the names of the Republican candidates will be printed thereon. On the outside end of the ballot is printed the elector's party voting number, which voting number is separate and distinct from every other voting number in that precinct. On the outside end of the return envelope is a line left for the original signature of the elector to whom the ballot is mailed, whereon he must either subscribe his signature in ink, or if he be an incapable voter, and is assisted, must have his own name subscribed thereon, together with the names of two freeholders in that precinct, who assisted him in voting. Upon receipt of the envelope containing his ballot, the voter marks a cross (X) at the names of the candidates for whom he votes, and then folds his ballot so that all the names thereon are turned inside and out of sight, and his party voting number appears on the outside end of the envelope. (In the same manner that he now folds his ballot at a general election.) He then encloses this ballot in the stamped return envelope, seals the same, signs his name on the end of the envelope, and deposits it in a postoffice box. It then goes to the postoffice directed by law, addressed to the Primary or Return Board, who alone are authorized by law to receive these envelopes from the postmaster, and then only on the day and hour designated by law and in public. Upon return day, the Board receives all of these primary election envelopes from the postoffice, takes them to a public place, and after counting the number received, and comparing with the number originally sent out, compares each signature on each envelope with the same signature subscribed on the original affidavit of registration, and if it be genuine, opening the envelope, removing the ballot therefrom, without opening the same, observing that the color of the ballot corresponds to the party color to which that elector belongs, then tearing off the voting number, which appears on the end of the ballot, after comparing it with the voting number written on that elector's affidavit of registration, and then finally depositing the ballot into a general ballot box, into which all the ballots of each political party are deposited. It will thus appear that every ballot has been checked in three ways to identify it as being the original ballot sent to that elector, and as the one cast personally by him: First, it was contained in an envelope bearing his original signature; it bore his own party voting number, which was separate and distinct from every other party voting number in that precinct, and was printed under the authority of law only upon one ballot, namely, the ballot he receives; and finally it was upon the color of paper which only the political party with which that elector was affiliated was allowed by law to use. Every other political party's ballots were printed upon different colored paper.
This makes it practically impossible for any ballot to be cast or counted other than the one lawfully mailed and regularly received and voted and mailed in person by the elector to whom it was sent.
Even the most prejudiced opponents of the Postal Direct Primary bill admit that there are no practical reasons why it would not operate very successfully in the rural districts and the smaller cities and towns. Such an admission is a very far-reaching argument for the bill as a general working measure for direct nominations. It is an open confession that the plan is workable and meritorious. The only objection that has been urged with any semblance of force is the argument that the ballot could be easily corrupted in large cities, where the opportunities for fraud are great, and where the intelligence and honesty of certain classes of voters is low. It is suggested with considerable merit that among the foreign and ignorant classes in the great centers of population, corruption of suffrage is a matter easily accomplished; that there would be many of such voters willing to lend themselves to any scheme to deliver their primary ballots to certain persons to be voted as they desired under the names of the Individual electors.
At first blush, this argument appears to have some force, but upon close reading of the provisions of the bill, and its necessary effect upon the Practical operation of a primary campaign, it must be admitted that this sole objection is largely argumentative. In the first place, as pointed out above, each ballot must be cast by the person to whom it was sent, for it is contained in an envelope bearing the elector's own known signature. Therefore none other can vote the ballot. In the second place, the bill provides for extreme penal penalties for any one tampering with ballots, assisting a voter in the marking of a ballot (other than incapable voters), standing about and watching an elector mark his ballot, or in any wise influencing, or observing a voter in the marking of his ballot at the time it is voted, sealed in the envelope and dropped in the postoffice. All the penalties are for imprisonment and not for fines. This, then, will force any plan to secure ballots or corrupt the same to be done secretly and illegally. It must appear that there can be no extensive system of vote corruption carried on without discovery. It must further appear that there would be extremely few who would care to general or direct any extensive plan of corrupting or influencing primary ballots. It would be too risky a proceeding. If then votes were corrupted, it would have to be done very secretly and amongst only a trusted few. Therefore the percentage influenced in this manner could not be large.
Another bar to any tampering with ballots would be the check which each political party and each candidate would have upon the other. It would be a matter of political capital for one party to detect leaders or organizations within another party tampering with or corrupting the vote at its primary election. The various candidates for the different offices within the same party would watch one another with extreme vigilance to detect any attempt to influence or corrupt the ballots against them.
Lastly, it is suggested that because of the fact that these primary election ballots would be sent at the same time to thousands of different places throughout the precinct and city, and would be opened in offices and in homes on the same day, and in all probability fully 75% of them would be voted and remailed on the same day received; that it would be practically impossible to devise any system that would reach out and get these countless ballots in a thousand different places within a space of a few hours or a day. They would be too scattered to be gotten hold of or traced with any degree of success.
It must appear from a broad-minded consideration of the practical workings of this Postal Direct Primary law that there is no valid reason why it would not work with splendid success even in the congested and illiterate districts of our larger cities. But even admitting for the sake of argument that a certain percentage of the ignorant and vicious vote could be corrupted by the bosses, it certainly could not be large. It could not possibly exceed ten per cent of the registered vote. In light of the fact that this system would bring out at least twenty-five per cent more votes than any other primary law has ever succeeded in bringing out, it is seen at a glance that the corrupted vote would be far outweighed and overbalanced by the much larger percentage of decent vote that would be secured for the first time by means of this postal system of voting. The argument, then, is unanswerable in favor of this Postal Direct Primary law.
And it would for the first time give the intelligent and honest elements in all political parties the direct control of the power of nomination for public offices. Moreover, the mere fact that it would cause a larger number of people to vote would be of inestimable value, for it would tend to rouse and awaken public interest in civic affairs and by thus doing would educate and train the minds of the better classes in election affairs, and could not help but raise the honesty and power of popular suffrage. In other words, it would accomplish in the fullest degree, the results sought to be obtained by every direct primary law, namely, a popular choice of candidates for public office, with the power of selection for once actually in the hands of the honest electors.
In conclusion, it might be well to mention that this system of voting by mail would protect the suffrage of many of our best citizens, who, under present laws, are practically disfranchised. Such men are travelers, the sick, sailors, trainmen, and other men who, by reason of their occupation or misfortune, are forced to be absent from the place of their voting precincts on election day, but who could and would vote if an opportunity was extended to them to vote by mail. This would constitute no small class of voters.