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CONSTITUTIONAL AND STATUTORY PROVISIONS
The constitution of the state provides for two kinds of governing agents:
1. An electorate, i. e., a personnel whose only official function is to register the decision of the citizens on questions or candidates brought before the several constituencies for expression of opinion.
Representatives and officers-a personnel which is charged with the duties of representing the electorate between elections, and of conducting the business of the state.
Leading Constitutional Questions Relating to Electorate The leading constitutional or legal questions relating to the electorate therefore are:
1. Who shall constitute the electorate?
What shall be the organization and procedure for formulating and presenting issues and questions to the electorate so that they may be understood and publicly discussed?
3. What shall be the organization and procedure for taking a vote-i. e., for getting a true expression of opinion that will be binding on the official personnel of the government?
DEFINITION OF THE ELECTORATE
The question as to who shall constitute the electorate should be a matter of community judgment, founded upon considerations of expediency, the welfare of the state, the moral rights of human beings, and broad principles of democracy. The function of the electorate being to register public opinion on issues and on the selection of persons for such offices as are to be filled by popular choice, the composition of the electorate, as a personnel to whom authority is given to express the popular will, should depend upon the relative competence of different classes of persons in the community to think intelligently about public needs, official proposals and official acts.
Composition in England After Magna Charta
Historically the composition of electorates has depended upon the prevailing judgment in each politically organized community with respect to the material and moral capabilities of persons and their fitness to partici
pate in the exercise of control over men and affairs. In England, after Magna Charta, the sovereign power was in the hands of the lay and spiritual baronage as great landlords; in the thirteenth century the landed gentry and burgesses came to a share in the government as electors, and in the nineteenth century the workingmen of the towns and the agricultural laborers were admitted to the suffrage.
Who Constituted Electorate in 1777
At the time of the formation of the first constitution of the state of New York, the landed proprietors were in an overwhelming majority, and the leaders among them believed that the land owners were "the only safe depositaries of public power." Accordingly the first constitution gave the freeholders a special weight in the government by providing that the governor, the lieutenant governor, and the senators should be chosen by freeholders, the last named group by freeholders possessed of freeholds worth one hundred pounds over and above all debts charged thereon. With this material safeguard for the landed class securely established, a slighter property qualification was provided for voters for members of the assembly, which admitted to the suffrage renters and taxpayers and “freemen" of the cities of New York and Albany.
Initially, Electorate a Small Fraction of the Citizenship
These qualifications, as slight as they were for the voters for assemblymen, excluded from the suffrage a considerable portion of the adult males of the state. How large this portion was we cannot determine from the figures available, but we have a reliable statement to the effect that "The census of 1790 shows that out of a population of thirty thousand in New York City, there were but 1,209 freeholders of 100 pounds or over, 1,221 of 20 pounds, and 2,661 forty-shilling' freeholders." From scattered figures we may conclude that about one-third of the adult males were excluded from all participation in the state government, even in the election of assemblymen, under the constitution of 1777. It is estimated on the basis of a careful study that not more than 150,000 out of approximately 600,000 adult males or about four per cent. of the entire white population of the United States took part in the elections at which were chosen the members of the state conventions which ratified the federal constitution in 1787-1789.
Subsequent Enlargement of Electorate
Gradually the qualifications and limitations on the electorate were changed in response to public opinion and to altered conditions of social life. By the constitution of 1821, the special safeguards for landed property in the election of governor and assemblymen were swept away and the qualifications for voters for assemblymen were lowered. By an
amendment of 1826, all white males who complied with the resident requirements were empowered to vote for all elective officers, but property qualifications were retained for persons of color. The constitution of 1846, while continuing the adult white manhood suffrage, left property qualifications upon colored voters and these remained a part of the fundamental law until after the Civil War.
Thus step by step adult citizen manhood suffrage has been established in New York. The effect of this constitutional development is to place the voting power in the hands of about one-fifth of the citizen population or about one-sixth of the total population of the state.
Controversy Over Present Provisions
The provisions of the present constitution which are subjects of controversy are those which relate to the exclusion of criminals, public charges, and women. With regard to the first the constitution says that the legislature shall enact laws excluding from the right of suffrage all persons convicted of bribery or any infamous crime and that "no person shall be deemed to have gained or lost a residence, while confined in any public prison." There seems to be no reason for changing this provision.
Public Charges Not Disfranchised
With regard to public charges, the constitution does not disfranchise paupers; it merely states that no persons shall be deemed to have gained or lost a residence for the purpose of voting while kept at any almshouse or other asylum, or institution wholly or partly supported at public expense or by charity. It is a common practice in European countries to exclude from the suffrage those who are or have been supported in public institutions, and in many instances, those who are or have been in receipt of what is known as out-door relief." And it has been contended that New York shall follow the example of European countries. At first glance, it would seem that such a constitutional provision would safeguard the state from undesirable voters, on the theory that any person in receipt of public relief could not possess the independence requisite for an elector. It is recognized, however, that as the people have come to be more dependent on urban industry, an increasingly large proportion of the working classes of our cities and towns are in receipt of public relief, at some time in their lives, and particularly during periods of widespread depression and unemployment. This makes it apparent that any such constitutional provision strictly enforced would disfranchise thousands of worthy citizens and would, in fact, amount to a restoration of a property qualification more exclusive in its operations than the provisions swept away nearly one hundred years ago. Moreover the difficulties of administering and enforcing such a provision are well nigh insuperable,
except in the smaller communities where the recipients of relief are well known or easily discoverable.
The Question of Woman Suffrage
The arguments for and against woman suffrage are familiar and need no re-statement here. It is hardly to be presumed that any excursions into the logic of the subject will affect the judgment of the convention in this matter, for as Mr. Justice Holmes has well said: "General propositions do not decide concrete cases. The decision will depend upon a judgment or intuition more subtle than any articulate major premise."
There are, however, certain historical aspects of the question which deserve consideration in attempting to reach some conclusion concerning this important matter. The agitation in the United States in favor of the extension of the suffrage to women may be said to have begun with the woman's rights convention held at Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848. At this convention a clause asserting the political equality of the sexes was carried by a small majority, in the face of the opposition of many delegates present. Another convention held in 1850 at Worcester, Massachusetts, demanded the suffrage, better educational and industrial opportunities and more equal laws. The right of women to speak in public and organize private societies for public and philanthropic work was asserted.
The agitation thus begun soon bore fruit in the granting of the school suffrage in one form or another in a number of states, particularly in the West. Kentucky had already taken this action in 1838, and between 1859 and 1869, Kansas, Michigan, Nebraska and Wyoming allowed similar rights. Other western states soon followed their example, and between 1879 and 1899 several eastern states, including Massachusetts and Connecticut, adopted woman suffrage for school elections. To this form of the suffrage, the right to vote on bond issues under certain conditions was extended to women in a number of states, including New York.
The extension of the principle to all elections occurred first in 1869 in Wyoming. Nearly thirty years elapsed before another state followed the example of Wyoming. In 1893 Colorado, and in 1896 Utah and Idaho, adopted woman suffrage. This advance was followed by a setback for two decades. Provisions for the enfranchisement of women were defeated by the voters in South Dakota in 1890 and 1897, in Kansas in 1894, in California in 1896, in New Jersey in 1897, and in other states about the same time.
Before another decade elapsed the movement gathered renewed force, and woman suffrage was adopted by Washington in 1910, California in 1911, Kansas, Oregon and Arizona in 1912, and Nevada in
1914, making ten states in all with equal suffrage. In 1913, the legislature of Illinois gave women the right to vote for all statutory officers of the state, and also electors for President of the United States.
PROVISIONS FOR THE DEFINITION AND DISCUSSION OF POLITICAL ISSUES
A condition precedent to the exercise of electoral control is this -that before a consensus or majority opinion may be taken on any question at issue the "proposal," on the one hand, and the "opposition," on the other, must be so clearly defined and stated that differences in viewpoint can be presented and discussed, and finally that a vote may be taken" for or "against" or that a "yes" or "no" ballot may be cast.
Conditions Governing Effectiveness of Electorate
This means that the effectiveness of the electorate depends on the use of an organization and procedure by means of which proposals and counter proposals of officers and candidates who submit questions to the electorate may be brought to a vote. Fundamental as such a procedure is to popular government, it has been left out of consideration in framing all our constitutions and in developing the laws and regulations governing authorities under them.
Necessity for Development of a Procedure
This necessity is recognized by the courts. For the purpose of judicial consideration of questions in controversy involving private rights a very exacting procedure has been evolved. Both statutes and rules require the preparation and submission of issues in definite, formal counts, or complaints with answers and replies so framed that there can be no question as to what the issue is when the case is presented to the court for the taking of testimony, argument and decision. Similarly, a very exact procedure is prescribed governing motions and arguments before the court on questions of law; even more minute is the practice controlling the production of evidence, both in court and jury proceedings, and the submission of briefs and arguments of counsel. Public opinion has demanded and supported an organization and procedure wherein courts have surrounded themselves with attorneys, referees and other officers as aides in coming to right decisions. They control every detail of proceedings by rules of practice based on centuries of experience, the aim of which is to facilitate the ends of private justice by clearly defining, presenting and arguing issues in a manner which will enable the court and the jury to decide whether it is "for" or "against" the proponent or complainant.
Notwithstanding the fact that the government has been so exacting in relation to the whole subject of private justice, it has given practically