Election 1944: Red tape likely to void many soldier votes (10-10-44)

The Pittsburgh Press (October 10, 1944)


Red tape likely to void many soldier votes

21,000 may be invalidated in state
By Robert Taylor, Pittsburgh Press staff writer

Harrisburg, Pennsylvania –
Despite the efforts of the State Legislature and state administration to make it possible for every eligible Pennsylvania voter in military service to cast a ballot in this year’s election, a series of “red tape” fights over soldier voted is expected next month.

The administration drafted a liberal soldier vote bill, and the Legislature passed it with the stipulation that the law “shall be liberally construed” to enable absent servicemen to vote.

Preliminary estimates by state election officials, however, are that some 21,000 soldier ballots will be thrown out as defective because of irregularities and failure to comply with the exact terms of the Soldier Vote Act.

One principal reason

These ballots, it is predicted, will be invalidated in Congressional and Legislative districts where the civilian vote is so close as to be affected by the soldier poll, through challenges by candidates and rulings by County Election Boards.

One of the principal reasons for invalidation of ballots is already known – signing of the jurists, or oath to the soldier-voter, by a noncommissioned officer instead of a commissioned officer, as required by the Soldier Vote Act.

Governor Edward Martin, who advocated the liberal soldier vote law, told newspapermen his administration originally proposed a bill under which corporals and sergeants, as well as commissioned officers, could administer the oath.

Democrats blamed

He said the draft of the bill was changed when Rep. James Lovett (D-Trafford), one of the Democrats called in to confer on terms of the bill, insisted that the bill specify that only commissioned officers could certify the vote.

A number of county officials have already challenged the informal ruling of the State Election Bureau that soldier-voters must comply with the State Elections Law by marking their ballots with an “X” and that ballots marked with a checkmark should be thrown out. The soldier vote law doesn’t require a specific kind of mark.

They based their objections on the legal point that the intention of the voter was clear and that votes should not be thrown out because of minor technicalities, in the absence of fraud – a point repeatedly upheld in court decisions.

An example of what can happen when the soldier vote threatens to overturn the result of a civilian vote is shown in a World War I case that was decided by the Carbon County Court in favor of soldier votes, despite irregularities.

In 1918, civilian voters of Lansford elected Thomas J. Gallagher Chief Burgess over Benjamin M. Arthur, by a 655–640 vote. Camp Meade soldiers voted 12–1 and Camp Hancock soldiers voted 19–0 for Mr. Arthur.

State law, at that time, made no provision giving soldiers the right to vote for local officials, there was no return of the names of voters to show that the Camp Meade votes were cast by electors of the borough, and some solder-voters wrote on the face and back of the ballot.

Soldier vote admitted

The court admitted the soldier vote and declared Mr. Arthur elected, adopting as part of its opinion this legal dictum, which previously figured in other election case decisions:

It is the duty of the court to sustain an election authorized by law, if it has been so conducted as to give a free and fair expression of the popular will and the actual result thereof is clearly ascertained, for elections should never be held void unless they are clearly illegal.