« ForrigeFortsett »
mitted propositions on two occasions, with reference to the choice of election officers by the people, upon the plan of what is now known as the limited vote. On the 27th of June, 1837," he addressed that Convention at some length in support of his second proposition. It was then submitted to a vote and rejected very strongly; by a vote of, I think, over three to one, and the majority comprised most of the strong men of the Convention-such men as Woodward, Sergeant, Forward and others. The Convention passed off and nothing was done. At the session of the Legislature in 1839, the Governor of the Commonwealth called attention in his message to the subject of electoral reform. He pointed out to the two Houses that extensive changes had become necessary in our election laws by reason of the amendments to the Constitution. He pointed out the fact that great frauds had taken place at elections in various parts of the Commonwealth, and, in short, that our electoral system had fallen under reproach and needed amendment. During the course of the session, Mr. Senator Brown, of Philadelphia county, turned his attention to this subject, and, in a Committee of Conference upon the General Election bill of that year, obtained the insertion substantially of the proposition which had been advocated by Mr. Earle, in the Constitutional Convention the year before, and for which Mr. Brown himself had voted, he being a member of that Convention. Well, sir, that proposition will be found among our statutes as one of the most important and useful provisions of the election act of 1839. It provides that
*3 Convention Debates, 173.
each voter, at the time when election officers are to be chosen, shall vote for but one person for Inspector of elections during the coming year, and that the two candidates highest in vote shall be declared elected. Then follows a provision that each Inspector, so chosen, shall appoint a clerk. The Judge of the election, the only additional officer, is chosen under the old plan of the majority vote. That was in 1839, and it is to be noted that upon debate, this reform was carried in the Senate by a vote of only fifteen to eleven.
But this law as to the manner of choosing election officers has continued to the present time, a period of over thirty years, and it is well known that it is most salutary in operation and most satisfactory to the people. I do not know what the whole number of election districts in the State is at the present
in 1838 the number a little exceeded one thousand. I suppose the number now exceeds two thousand, and it happens under this law that in nineteen-twentieths of the election districts of the Commonwealth, each of the two political parties into which our people are ordinarily divided, has an Inspector in the Election Board, and also a Clerk, and that the majority has the Judge. Sir, it is this provision of the law that has preserved our elections from degeneracy and disgrace. If it were recalled from our statute book, and we should apply to the choice of election officers our ordinary plan of voting, we might expect an enormous increase of fraudulent voting throughout the State, with consequent degeneracy of our political system, and to a great ex
tent discredit would be cast upon the political institutions under which we live.
Some years since, complaint began to be made in various parts of the State that jurymen were not fairly selected by County Commissioners and Sheriffs to whom the law committed their selection. In some counties they were taken, it was alleged, exclusively from the majority party in the countythe County Commissioners and Sheriffs representing the majority and selecting their political friends almost exclusively, from year to year. Appeals were made to the Legislature, and several local acts were passed for particular counties, providing a new arrangement, an election by the people of two Jury Commissioners in the same manner in which Inspectors of Election are chosen under the election act of 1839. Finally the Governor recommended the extension of this plan to the whole Commonwealth. This recommendation was made, I believe, by Governor Curtin. A general statute was passed and approved by Governor Geary in April, 1867, applying this plan of Jury Commissioners to the whole State, and every Senator present is familiar with it. Since that time throughout the State we have had elections for those officers upon the plan of the limited vote. The statute assigns to President Judges some duties in connection with the Jury Commissioners. In many of the judicial districts, the President Judges declined to act, or did not act for some time after the law was passed. They thought, and I suppose thought properly,
that they ought to have no part in the selection of men who were to serve in their courts as jurymen; that it was a duty which ought not to be charged upon them, because it was to some extent inconsistent with their judicial duties and with that entire independence which ought to exist between the Judges and jury who are to try the disputes and differences of the citizen. But presently it came to be understood that in all cases under that law jurymen would be divided equally between political parties; that in a county where there was nearly a two-thirds majority the minority would have an equal number, which seemed unfair; and so, from time to time appeals have been made to President Judges to take part and assist their political friends to get their full share, or perhaps more than their share of jurymen.
One of the President Judges described to me the performance on one occasion when he first attended to select jurors. - It was in a county with the inhabitants of which he was not very familiar, he having previously resided in an adjoining county; but he was told that he must assist in filling the wheel and he did so. He found a Democratic and a Republican Jury Commissioner sitting on each side of a table, and each of them with a hat full of names. The proceeding was after this fashion : The Democratic Commissioner reached into his hat and took out a name, and put it into the box or wheel; the Republican Commissioner did the same from his hat, and then the Judge, who happened to be a Republican, reached into the Republican's hat and took out a name and put it into the wheel ; and at the end of the proceeding the Judge did not know a single name that he had put into the wheel, but the duty charged upon him under the law had been, after a fashion, discharged.
What ought to have been done in 1867? Why, I insist that the bill which is lying upon your table, introduced early in the session, ought to have passed instead of the Jury Commissioner act. That provides that in the election of County Commissioners all the voters of a county shall be enabled to represent themselves by their own votes; that in all ordinary cases the majority shall be enabled to elect two Commissioners and the minority one, and then that the board, so made up, shall be charged with this duty of selecting jurymen, as formerly. We would, by that arrangement, be enabled to dispense with two unnecessary officers—the Jury Commissioners--and we would also be enabled to dispense with this clumsy provision in relation to the participation of President Judges in the selection of jury
We would have the people fairly represented in courts of justice whenever issues of fact were to be tried, and every object designed to be obtained by the act of 1867 would be fully accomplished. That, by the way, is only one of the advantages, as I think, of this County Commissioner bill which is upon your files. But I proceed :
At the last session the two houses of the Legislature passed ten or twelve local bills, at my instance, applying reformed voting to certain municipal elections in the counties of Columbia and Northumber