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'I A. B. do swear [or being a duaker do affirm], that I am the same A. B. whose name appears registered in the certificate or affidavit now produced; and that my qualification as such registered voter still continues; and that I have not voted before at this election; and [_in case of householders in cities, towns, and boroughs] that not more than one half year's grand jury or municipal cesses, rates, or taxes are now due or payable by me in respect of the premises in this certificate mentioned.'
Yet notwithstanding these very precise and stringent enactments, men venture to allege that the Irish registration law encourages the commission of fraud, perjury, personation, and so forth!! We beg those gentlemen who talk so flippantly on this subject, to tell us whether they have or have not detected any cases of these frauds. If so, have they punished the offenders according to law? If they have, what more is required? If they have not, then how are we to avoid the inference that they had no case for a jury,—that in fact they make assertions which will not bear the test of forensic discussion and judicial scrutiny? From these considerations, we think it will be evident that the statements on the subject of personation are made for the purpose of effect, and are most improperly exaggerated; that the law does not encourage the offence, but provides severe penalties against offenders; and whether the thing be true or false, that the provisions of Lord Stanley's bill directed against the insertion of names on the register, could not all affect an offence subsequent to the feet of registration.
Another ground on which Lord Stanley's bill is alleged to be necessary is, that 'fictitious Votes' can be created under the provisions of the existing act. On this subject we cannot possibly do better than refer our readers to a paper in Blackwood's Magazine for 1837.* They will there find a discussion on the subject of the 'fictitious votes' in Scotland said to have been manufactured by Conservatives; and will see that the candid writers of that high Tory publication, consider that to be, in Scotch Conservatives, quite a venial thing, which in Irish liberals is a heinous crime!
'That in the captain's but a choleric word,
In 1837, Blackwood's Magazine thus argued on this subject:
'Even supposing a claimant to have all the doubts and scruples imaginable with regard to his claim, he may surely, with a perfectly
safe conscience, go to the registration court, in order there to he informed whether it is a good claim or otherwise; and to say that after his right is considered and recognized by that court, he does not possess a bona fide vole, is to use language of which we are quite unable to comprehend either the legal or the moral meaning.'
This, it must be confessed, is pretty decided language; but only a month ago this same magazine expresses very different opinions on the right of the people of Ireland to do the identical thing which is here justified. Every Irish elector's claim has been considered and recognized by the court constituted by law; and in every case, an opportunity was afforded to any one to prove by evidence that he was not possessed of the necessary qualification; yet the decision of that court is called in question! (lf,' adds Blackwood's Magazine, 'there be any moral question 'here at all, it is of cnurse settled by the legal judgment; and from 'the very nature of the case, it can obviously be settled in no 'other way;' yet now the legal judgment is considered as altogether valueless! Again, in 1837, Blackwood affirmed that' fic'titious votes' were no more than the tares which always spring up among good wheat; now it protests in reference to Ireland:
'Fy on't! O fy! 'tis an unweeded garden,
That grows to seed; things rank and gross in nature,
Possess it merely!'
What can possibly be more opposed to the spirit of Lord Stanley's bill than the following passage?
'Under our present system, these fictitious votes are weeds which will always spring up here and there along with the healthful produce of the soil; from which, however, there is no possihle means of distinguishing and separating them; if, then, we must get rid of them, how are we to escape the truly radical conclusion that both should be rooted out together? If we must extirpate these few depredators, who thus defy the mouse-trap—it is quite clear that we must take the radical plan of doing it, and pull the house down!'
This is so applicable to the member for Lancashire's notable project, and so fully meets the quibbles of those who have raised the outcry against the Irish system of registration, that we might fairly dismiss the subject, did not one or two of the leading clauses of Lord Stanley's bill demand consideration, as having an especial reference to the present system of registration in England, on which, for the reasons stated, we are desirous to fasten the attention of all who are in earnest on the subject of reform and equitable government.
Lord Stanley proposed to establish in Ireland the system at present obtaining in England, by which a voter is annually liable to have his title disputed and his vote objected to. Lord John Russell, on the contrary, in his bill for the registration of parliamentary electors, proposes to limit the power of objecting parties; contending that experience has proved that the custom prevailing in this country is productive of much mischief and of no commensurate good.
Lord Stanley failed, we think, to prove the necessity for the change or the efficacy of the remedy. Why, we ask, is a voter to be subjected, annually, to the inconvenience of attending in a court, and wasting his time in meeting objections which have before been met, and answering questions which have before been answered? What other object can there be in such a system, than to weary out the elector and give every chance to the objector? What motive can there be for such a regulation but the hope that circumstances may interfere to prevent a man's attention to the registry,—that absence, or illness, or business may give the anti-popular party a chance of disfranchising him? When a man has once proved to the satisfaction of the court, that he occupies a house of value sufficient to entitle him to the franchise, on what plea can he annually be required to prove the validity of his title, so long as he continues to occupy the same premises? We confess that we entirely approve of the principle in the Irish Reform act, by which an elector is protected from annual annoyance; and we hope to see the English act amended by the introduction of a clause limiting the extraordinary powers of objectors. 'What!' it will be asked by the Tory traducers of the Irish electors, ' What! will you offer a premium to deception, 'and allow those who are disqualified, to vote?' Our reply to all the rodomontade which we hear on this subject is, ' No; we will 'not offer a premium to deception, nor knowingly allow those 'disqualified to vote.' We contend that the Irish Reform act is so framed as to provide (as far as a mere statute can provide against such things) against voting by disqualified persons. We have shown, according to that law, that any one who forges a certificate is liable to transportation for seven years. If, therefore, certificates are forged, transport the offenders. We have shown again, that every one is liable to be sworn as to his proper identity and actual possession of the property from which he votes. If he swears falsely detection cannot be difficult; and when he is detected prosecute him for perjury. But the law is still more severe and cautious. According to the 5Gth clause of the 2 and 3 Will IV. c. 88, it is provided with reference to Ireland:
'And be it enacted, that if any person being at the time of any election being in the enjoyment of any office disqualifying him from voting at such election, or being otherwise disqualified, or having ceased to be qualified, shall notwithstanding presume to vote at such election, such person shall forfeit to his majesty a sum of one hundred pounds, and shall be liable to all penalties, forfeitures, and provisions to which he would have been subject for such offence by any law in force at the time of committing the same; and in case of a petition to the House of Commons for altering the return or setting aside the election, at which such person shall have voted, his vote shall be struck off by the committee, with such costs as to them shall seem meet, lo be paid by him to the petitioner.'
We ask any man of common candor, after this, is it not unfair to allege that the Irish law holds out inducements and affords facilities to disqualified persons to vote at elections?
We admit freely that the law requires amendment as to the establishment of claims; and we admit also that ' personation ' is practised at Irish elections; but we have no hesitation in saying, that Lord Stanley's bill is not directed against those evils, but aims at crushing popular enthusiasm and contracting the honest franchise. If there is not sufficient caution observed before a voter's claim is declared to be valid, let the law require more caution, and the clearer proof of qualification by direct evidence. This will remedy the evil without violating rights!
It admits of immediate proof, that the system of annual objections is productive of much inconvenience, and is attended with a great deal of abuse. Lord John Russell stated recently in the House of Commons, that he knew of a case in the East Riding of York, where a voter who had established his claim the year before, was obliged to go from a great distance to the registration court with his lease, to prove his title again. When he arrived, the objection had vanished! and he found that his time had been wasted for nothing. The law that allows such practices as this (and they are matters of constant occurrence) must be vicious; and therefore we are inclined to consider the clauses in Lord John Russell's registration bill as important in the very highest degree. That bill has been postponed till next session; but we hope that the following clauses will, sooner or later, be sanctioned as the law of the land.
'And be it enacted, that no objection to the value of any lands or tenements holden hy an established voter for any county, riding, parts, or division of a county, shall be allowed so long as they shall continue to be holden by the same voter, nor shall any objection to the title of any such established voter to hold any lands or tenements be allowed, unless the objection be grounded upon something which shall have happened after the date to which the qualification of such voter was last established.'
'And he it enacted, that no objection to the value of any premises
VOL. VIII. P
occupied by an established voter for any city or borough, shall be allowed so long as he shall continue to occupy the same premises.'
If Lord Stanley's proposition to oblige the Irish voters annually to produce their leases and title-deeds in court, and to come as often into collision with their landlords, be odious and unnecessary, what will be thought of the plan which would enable an objector, whose objections had been quashed in the registration court, to persecute a voter further, and compel his attendance from any part of a county before the judges of assize?
Lord Stanley proposed to establish the right of appeal to the judges against the decision of the revising barristers; and, to work out his intention more thoroughly, introduced a clause into his bill which provided that no voter whose claim had been disallowed by the barrister could appeal without giving a bond and security for the sum of £10, which sum might be exacted from him if the judge thought that he had no business to appeal!! It may well be asked, what is there in the nature of the elective franchise to warrant such regulations as these? or what is there in the constitution of England that declares that the man who asks for the franchise shall be regarded as a public enemy? The law is obliged to fix some standard of qualification; but nothing can be more unreasonable than to multiply objections and difficulties in the road of those who are possessed of the requisite qualification. A free and an extensive franchise is necessary for the preservation of public liberty, and that man is an enemy to the people, and a friend of arbitrary and irresponsible power who proposes to contract it. Lord Stanley professes that his object is to purify the system of registration; but the policy of his party and the provisions of his bill tend a very different way:
'Crimson leaves the rose adorn,
Viewing Lord Stanley's recent movement with reference to the interests of the country for which he proposed to legislate, it cannot be regarded as any thing else than as a calamity. The best friends of Ireland implored the noble lord to desist; for, that any such attempt would only excite the people who were subsiding into tranquillity ; but he heeded no warning. The decrease of crime (proved before Lord Roden's committee by Lord Roden's own witnesses), and the movement in favor of temperance indicated an altered state of things. 'Battalion after battalion— 'squadron after squadron—was withdrawn from the shores of 'Ireland; yet every day property became more secure and order