Thursday, July 30, 2009
1906 Judicial-Election Challenge Might Have Benefited Groff
By ROGER M. GRACE
The official tally showed that Lewis A. Groff lost his 1906 bid for election to the Los Angeles Superior Court. There were five seats to be filled; the five highest vote-getters were to land them; Groff came in sixth. However, Milton K. Young, who ran seventh, on Dec. 21, 1906 filed an action in the Superior Court challenging the entitlement of Frederick W. Houser and George H. Hutton to assume office.
If he could prove the irregularities he averred, he and/or Groff would be entitled to victory.
Young’s major contention, according to the next morning’s issue of the Los Angeles Herald, was that votes of denizens of the Soldier’s Home, at what was then the City of Sawtelle (where this newspaper was born in 1901), were ineligible to vote. (The home is on the grounds of the Veterans’ Cemetery at Wilshire and Veteran, just west of Westwood Village.)
The Herald’s article says:
“For some time past there has been a complaint against allowing the soldiers at the National home at Sawtelle to vote in county and state elections. The soldiers’ vote is one of the most sought votes in the county because of its locality in a neighborhood where the vote can never be depended upon for any party.
“Every successful candidate for office generally appoints one or more men from the home on his staff in order to reward the old soldiers for their support and insure support in the future.
“Young alleges that the old soldiers have no right to vote. He cites the fact that in 1887 the government bought the land at Sawtelle and established a home there for old and decrepit soldiers of volunteer troops. That promptly thereafter the state of California gave up all hold on the ground and home owned by the government and that by that act the soldiers were as far removed from having anything to say in the management of California affairs as though they were in Wisconsin or Maine or some other end of the country.”
Young’s attorney, Joseph H. Call, is quoted in the Christmas morning edition of the Herald as elaborating:
“The soldiers’ home at Sawtelle really is not a part of the state of California, or the county of Los Angeles…by reason of the fact that it is owned absolutely by the general government.
“The inmates of that institution, in a large majority of cases, are residents of other counties of California or other states of the union. They pay no taxes, county or state, and they are not amenable to the laws of the state or county except in cases where they have committed crimes while outside the territory included in the grounds of the home.
“All national soldiers’ homes are under military laws of the government and the inmates are subject to the same laws as prevail in the regular army.”
States remain divided today as to the right of residents of federal veterans’ home to vote in state and local elections.
A California Supreme Court decision in 1895 affirmed the rejection of an election challenge in Napa County based on the contention that votes of residents of a veterans’ home should not have been counted. It did not consider the federal question raised by Young; it was decided based on the law of domicile, and said that if a resident intended to remain in the home indefinitely, he had a right to vote in a county election.
The First District Court of Appeal in 1952 held that U.S. control over federal enclaves “is no longer full or complete or exclusive,” and that residents within them may exercise the right to vote, guaranteed by the state Constitution.
Young’s stance in 1906, at a time when U.S. control was full and complete and exclusive, was an intriguing and possibly meritorious one.
However, of the roughly 1,200 votes cast at the Soldiers’ Home, Hutton received 736, Houser got 733, and Young wound up with 201. Even if Young’s argument were to be accepted, that would only have eliminated a 535-vote advantage of Hutton over him, and a 532-vote advantage for Houser.
That, alone, would not have upset the election. The countywide tally sent to the Secretary of State’s Office was 20,414 for Hutton, 19,688 for Houser, 18,550 for Groff, and 17,488 for Young—who was 2,926 votes behind Hutton, as well as trailing Houser and Groff.
Young did raise a number of other alleged irregularities.
Trial began Jan. 10, 1907, in Department Five of the Los Angeles Superior Court, with Orange Superior Court Judge Zephanian B. West presiding. The proceeding—which included the counting of ballots before the judge—was expected to last two months.
It didn’t. A key ruling by the judge brought the case to a quick conclusion.
Copyright 2009, Metropolitan News Company