Слике страница
PDF
ePub

no attention in this state, and little attention in this country, to the subject of defining, presenting and determining issues having to do with the subjects of political justice-issues, questions, decisions on matters of public policy-questions which affect the happiness and welfare of the whole community-questions which are submitted to the "electorate" as a jury whose duty it is to sit and decide political controversies by ballot. This widely scattered agency of popular control has been left without provisions, either in organization or procedure, even for defining, taking evidence on, and reaching decisions with respect to issues to be determined by ballot.

The Whole Subject Left to Private Initiative

In this country, the whole subject of defining and presenting political issues has been left to private initiative. Here necessity, the, mother of invention, has produced a long series of unofficial non-legal devices, which have had for their purpose the doing of things that have been elsewhere more effectively done officially under conditions that contribute to responsibility. Without doing more than to advert to these adaptations, attention is called to the fact that the non-official and detached character of our political agencies called "parties," even since they have been made the subject of regulation, in the nature of things leaves our electoral system defective in the following particulars:

1. The parties themselves, under our system, are irresponsible. Any agency whose responsibility cannot be defined and located in a body of official persons within the government is, of necessity, an irresponsible agency; therefore, it is one that does not make for "responsible" govern

2.

ment.

Party action is not taken on well-defined current issues. The proposals of our political parties are made and submitted in generalities for the primary purpose of obtaining votes for persons seeking office and ordinarily they do not present issues arising out of an actual division on important measures or subjects of public business.

3. Proposals by irresponsible non-official agencies are not adapted to securing sound judgment from the electorate and are

not adapted to making the government responsive.

The Party Platform as an Attempt to Define Issues

The instrument at present employed in presenting party claims to popular support is what is called a "platform." This is prepared and used to further the efforts of a "party" that is seeking to get control of state offices. It is made up largely of promises and not of issues. As a result of remarkable legislation in New York the party platform is made by an extra-legal and wholly uncontrolled convention and the candidates. are nominated by a totally different body-namely, the entire party electorate. Thus it may happen that the platform may be drafted before or after the nomination of candidates and that the candidates of the same party may not only have no harmonious relations, but may even entertain the widest divergence of opinion on matters of public policy. It may happen, also, that one group of the party may control the platform-making convention and another group may nominate candidates wholly out of accord with the express policy which they are supposed to carry out. In short, it is impossible to imagine a system less calculated to secure the union of the party on principles of public policy and to localize responsibility in specified public officials put into power by the party.

Method Not Adapted to Responsible Government

Assuming, however, that a union of party nominees on the principles of the platform is possible under our present system, there are other devices which unavoidably make for irresponsibility in our government. There is no process whereby we may be sure that the "platform" relates to specific acts of officers associated with the public measures and policies in dispute. On the contrary, the "platform" is a long list of generalities and an arraignment—a general list of proposals advanced by one " unofficial body " against another "unofficial body." These non-official organizations and non-official expressions of opinion are not concerned with the definition and decision of a single issue. Parties enter upon a campaign with a platform as a general declaration of political faith in the hope that they may get the electorate to pin their faith to their candidates, rather than settle any one or more of the broad questions presented. An election, therefore, does not approve or disapprove specific acts of officers or of an organized official body called "the government," but it is a count of votes for candidates for office who are not leaders and who do not have anything more than remote relation to what has gone before or what may happen thereafter. That is, our political contests do not center sufficiently in official persons who have performed certain acts of government or carried out specific policies or in candidates who, if elected, will do certain things or establish certain policies.

PROVISIONS SAFEGUARDING THE EXERCISE OF THE FRANCHISE

In all countries and under all systems where an “electorate” is established as an agency of control, it is necessary to provide an organization and a procedure

1. For determining that only such persons vote as are authorized

2.

or qualified.

For protecting electors from undue influence while at the polls. 3. For obtaining a true record and report of results.

This is of equal importance whether leadership is “responsible” or “irresponsible." If the leader is responsible, he may use all of the executive powers to continue himself in office and further his own usurpation, unless provision is made for the independence of election officers. If leadership is “irresponsible” then the "boss" through his control over the executive may use election officers to continue a régime of spoliation.

Successful Development of Safeguards in the United States

It is a curious reflection upon American political genius that, although it has failed to develop machinery for securing precise and effective action by the electorate on issues and official actions, it has evolved perhaps the most successful and elaborate methods and procedures for the protection of the voter in the exercise of his electoral rights. The first constitution of the state provided for a full and fair experiment with voting by ballot, a device not then generally employed, and since that time the problem of securing a "fair vote and an honest count" has received extensive consideration at the hands of the legislature and constitutional conventions.

The provisions developed for obtaining this desirable result include the following:

1. Registration of voters before election.

2. Official primaries for political parties.

[blocks in formation]

4. Bi-partisan local supervision of elections with multi-partisan

co-operation in watching.

5. State supervision of elections and official count of ballots subject to judicial review.

In view of the attention which has been devoted to the perfection of this electoral machinery, it would seem that very little remains to be done in the future. The subjects which are still under marked controversy are citizenship and registration, the form of the Australian ballot and the office of the Superintendent of Elections.

Citizenship and Registration

In the effort to prevent fraudulent registration and what is known as the "floating vote " evil, provisions have been inserted in the constitution to the effect that each elector must have been a citizen of the United States for ninety days, an inhabitant of the state for one year, a resident of the county for four months and the election district for thirty days preceding the date of the election at which he casts his ballot. Stringent as these safeguards are, there is a demand for increasing the terms of citizenship and residence in the county and election district. By the present limitations thousands of otherwise qualified and honorable citizens are deprived of the right to vote every year, particularly in the cities where the conditions of life are such as to require constant movement of residence, especially by workingmen and the professional classes. To disfranchise still more honorable citizens in an effort to prevent illegalities, instead of strengthening the machinery for preventing fraud, is attacking the problem in the wrong way, and cannot be too vigorously condemned. Whether intended as such or not, it, in fact, is another political device. for disfranchising the voters of New York City on the untenable assumption that there is more corruption there than in the rural districts of the

state.

The Form of the Australian Ballot

The objection has arisen that the Australian ballot may be so devised as to become an instrument of the irresponsible boss if the party column is employed in the arrangement of the names of candidates. The constitution merely provides that elections, except for such town officers as may by law be directed to be chosen otherwise, shall be by ballot, but the form of the ballot may be greatly varied under this constitutional provision. Indeed, under it expedients may be resorted to that will violate the spirit of the constitution while adhering to the letter.

It has therefore been proposed that the present statutory safeguards against the party column ballot should be established in the constitution. Such proposals, however, seem to be based on a misconception of the real source of the difficulties arising out of the party column system, namely, upon the erroneous idea that the party is normally an evil, whereas the real objection is not so much to the party as to its irresponsibility. Where the representatives of a party can be made entirely responsible for the conduct of the government when placed in control, there can be no objection to giving the party full recognition on the ballot. Where, however, the administrative branch of the government is broken into innumerable elective offices the long party column ballot becomes the ambush in which the invisible party boss hides his train of petty minions. To scatter these candidates for minor offices among a number of groups or place them in alphabetical order does not in fact make them responsi

ble. The objections therefore to the present constitutional provisions. respecting the ballot should be directed to the structure of the government itself—not to the form of the ballot. If responsibility in the government is properly established, the determination of the form of the ballot may be safely left to the legislature.

State Supervision of Elections

The third administrative problem in connection with safeguarding the exercise of the franchise is state supervision of elections. In other states the control of the election process is left to local agencies, subject of course to judicial review under certain circumstances. In New York state also there are several local authorities charged with functions relative to preparing and distributing the ballots, receiving and counting the ballots, and policing the polling places, but to these functionaries there is added a central officer, known as the superintendent of elections, supported by a large staff of deputies whose duty it is to aid in preventing illegal registration of voters and illegal voting. This central control is the product of conditions which are almost peculiar to New York. Broadly speaking, the political faith of Greater New York City is different from that of the "up-state" region, as it is known in political circles. Out of this rivalry of parties came the establishment of a state supervision of all elections directed against the City of New York. To speak frankly, it was a Republican device for preventing frauds in a Democratic community. Although the expedient accomplished some very good results, it was never regarded as wholly satisfactory from any angle and was the subject to constant criticism and occasional modification, the last being in an act passed in 1915.

The principal features of the system as now constructed are as follows:

1. Supervision is centralized in the hands of one superintendent of elections, instead of three.

2. The supervision is state-wide and not confined to cities.

3. All deputies are made completely subject to the control of the superintendent who appoints and removes them at pleasure. They are no longer to be the mere nominees of county chairmen of political parties.

The chief functions vested in this branch of the government are:
1. The investigation of all questions relating to registration of

voters.

2. The arrest of persons who violate the provision of the chapter on elections or the penal law relating to crimes against the elective franchise.

3. Attendance at the polling places and co-operation in the enforcement of the election law.

« ПретходнаНастави »