Thursday, August 6, 2009
1906 Election Marked by Perplexities
By ROGER M. GRACE
A challenge to the election results in the 1906 contest for five seats on the Los Angeles Superior Court seemed to have a fair chance of succeeding in light of the utter confusion that existed that year not only on the part of voters, but on the part of those who counted the ballots.
The major argument by the contestant, Milton K. Young, as discussed last week, was that votes of residents at the Old Soldier’s Home in Sawtelle should not have been counted. Aside from that legal argument, Young had proof of various boners in deciphering ballots.
The Los Angeles Times’ article of Jan. 7, 1907, reporting on the trial of Young’s action, says:
“At the end of the first day of the contest it became evident that no one but a specially trained and educated expert ought to try to vote. It is too complicated for ordinary mortals. And nobody but the shades of Daniel Webster and Chief Justice Marshall is really qualified to sit on election boards.”
There were 13 candidates for five Superior Court posts; a voter could vote for five candidates; the top five vote-getters would be the winners. Lewis A. Groff was No. Six and Young was No. Seven. Recipients of the fourth and fifths spots were the targets of Milton’s challenge.
It was possible to vote a straight party ticket by stamping an “X” in the circle at the head of the party’s column which listed all of its candidates. Exceptions could be made by putting an “X” in a square next to the name of a candidate of a different party. But this didn’t work with respect to judicial candidates. If a voter put a mark in the circle at the top of the “Socialist Ticket” and also marked the box next to the name of a candidate of the Republican Party, the vote had to be disqualified because there was no way of knowing which of the five Socialist candidates the voter wanted to replace with the Republican.
So, if a voter put an “X” in a circle at the top of any of the four columns which included Superior Court candidates (Republican, Democrat, Socialist, or Independent) and wanted to choose a Superior Court candidate not on his party’s ticket, he had to use the squares. There was confusion among voters and errant calls were made in the tallying.
One of Young’s complaints was that ballots were ignored where the voter chose both him, in the Democratic column, and James Rives, in the Republican column. That was entirely appropriate; voters could choose five from any of the tickets. But Young’s name and Rives’ were next to other, so it looked like they were in an either-one-or-the-other race.
An unsettled legal question draws discussion in a Times article of Jan. 9, 1907:
“The election returns gave Lewis A. Groff more votes than Young. There is a difference among lawyers—as among court decisions—as to what would happen should one of the present judges be ousted, but Groff prove to have more votes than Young.
“In other words, suppose the result of the voting proves to be as follows. in the order of the votes received: Groff, Young, Hutton.
“Hutton would then be out; but would Groff be in? He would have the most votes of the three; but he did not file a contest. Would he be entitled to the result of Young’s contest?”
In the end, the trial judge, who came in from Orange County, did not decide the legality of votes by the old soldiers nor whether Groff could profit from a challenge he did not bring.
Numerous voters had checked the circle at the top of the Democratic column, and also checked the circle at the top of the Non-Partisan column. The Democratic Party, then withering, put together its local ticket by merely copying the names on the Non-Partisan Ticket. (That ticket only pertained to local elections; the Democratic Party did have a discrete statewide slate.) In choosing both tickets, the voter was voting for the same candidates—but still, Judge Zephanian B. West declared, a voter could only choose one ticket, so the votes were invalid.
The Jan. 16 issue of the Herald says:
“[T]he attorneys representing Young put up a strong fight to have that ruling reversed, but Judge West stuck to the letter of the law and after taking the subject under consideration he sustained his own ruling and 6,000 votes for the county nonpartisan ticket were thrown out. Attorney Young then withdrew and that contest was declared at an end.”
Groff did not gain a Los Angeles Superior Court judgeship, nor did the former Nebraska judge, U.S. land commissioner, USC Law School dean and postmaster in Los Angeles again hold public office. He remained in law practice and died on Jan. 28, 1928 at the age of 87.
Copyright 2009, Metropolitan News Company