Thursday, July 23, 2009
Groff Loses 1906 Race for Superior Court
By ROGER M. GRACE
Was the endorsement of all three of those major daily newspapers that chose up sides in the race enough to assure Lewis A. Groff election to the Los Angeles Superior Court in 1906?
There were 13 contestants for full six-year terms as judges (and one contest to fill out an unexpired term). The five highest vote-getters would gain election. There were five Republican nominees; it was a Republican year; the five Republicans were elected.
Groff, though a Republican, favored nonpartisan elections for judges and ran on the Independent ticket, with the Democrats adopting the nominees on that ticket as their own.
A complex ballot contributed to the Republican sweep. By placing a mark in a circle at the top of the column marked “REPUBLICAN TICKET,” the voter could choose all Republican nominee for state and local offices. Here’s the top of the ballot showing the Republican and Democratic columns:
Those columns and those of the Socialist and Prohibition parties included both state and local candidates (though the Prohibitionists did not nominate judicial candidates). There were also columns for tickets of the Independence League and Union Labor pertaining to state offices and the “Non-Partisan Ticket” with nominees for local offices.
Here’s where it gets complicated. If a voter checked the Republican circle, a vote would be counted for every Republican nominee except where a box was checked next to the name of a candidate of a different party. For example, a voter could check the Republican circle and still vote for Assessor Ben Ward in his bid to succeed himself by stamping the box next to his name in the Democratic or Independent column. (The majority of voters did so, returning to office a Republican who had fallen out of favor of his own party.)
However, this didn’t work when it came to the Superior Court races. An opinion issued by the Office of District Attorney says:
“Should the Republican or any other ticket be voted ‘straight,’ and a cross be placed opposite the name of Groff or any other candidate for a judge on any other ticket, the entire vote on judges would be lost, as the vote would have been cast for six judges for the long term, and there would be no way to determine which Republican it was intended to omit.”
(If you wonder why the DA’s Office was rendering advice on a non-criminal matter, it’s because the DA handled both the county’s civil and criminal matters then; the Office of County Counsel would not exist until June 2, 1913.)
Chief Deputy DA Hartley Shaw’s advisement says:
“If a voter desires to split the ticket in judges, he will best gain this end by stamping a cross at the right of the name of each candidate he selects up to the limit of five for the long term.”
This was confusing and no doubt operated to Groff’s disadvantage.
Also, both the evening Express, on election eve, and the morning Examiner, on election day, carried prominently displayed articles reporting on support that had emerged for Frederick W. Houser. Although both newspapers had endorsed Groff in the course of embracing the Independent/Democratic ticket, Houser, an assemblyman, was a target of Times Publisher William Harrison Gray Otis, and Groff was strongly favored by him.
The winners and the votes that were announced were: incumbent Walter Bordwell, 37,250; former District Attorney James Rives, 36,468; incumbent William P. James, 21,824; Santa Monica attorney George H. Hutton, 20,414; and Houser, 19,688.
Groff came in sixth, with 18,550 votes, according to the official tally. Seventh was a Democrat on the Independent/Democrat ticket, Milton K. Young, recipient of 17,488 votes. They were trailed by another man on that ticket, Democrat C.F. McNutt, with 16,554 votes, and five Socialists, each with well under 4,000 votes.
Anyway, that was the initial official count. There would be a re-count at the behest of Young, who challenged the election of both Hutton and Houser. This created the prospect that Groff would, after all, ascend to the Superior Court.
I’ll get to that next week.
Copyright 2009, Metropolitan News Company