The Right to Vote


By SCOTT LUCAS, Senator from Illinois

Delivered at the National Radio Forum, conducted by Washington Evening Star, WMAL, Blue Network, July 14, 1943

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. IX, pp. 670-672.

ONE of the blessings of liberty that was ordained and established by the founding fathers of this nation was the right to vote. This privilege was considered so sacred and so essential to our theory of government for an enlightened civilization, that in 1870 an amendment to the Constitution was ratified and adopted by the required number of States, which said, "The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by theUnited States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude."

From the time this Republic became an actuality, the people have zealously guarded the right of franchise. Whether we have a road commissioner in the smallest township of the United States, or a President of the United States, depends upon an election by a majority of the voters. No other nation in the history of mankind has had such along and continuous tenure of individual responsibility. Individuality, initiative, and responsibility, along with the other blessings of liberty, guaranteed to every citizen under the Constitution, have made us the envy of the world.

Today we find ruthless and tyrannical nations coveting our material possessions and seeking to destroy by the sword all of the liberties we have enjoyed for more than a century and a half. Whether or not we preserve the Anglo-Saxon institutions in this country depends upon our all-out success in the destruction of Nazi and Jap tyranny.

All patriotic men and women of America are now engaged in this life or death struggle. Millions upon millions of men and women in the factories, on the farms, in governmental offices, toil, sweat, and buy war bonds with only one objective in mind. Millions upon millions of American boys in the Army, the Navy, the Marines, and the Air Force, toil, sweat, suffer, and die, in every part of the world, with only one objective in mind. Never in our history have we all been called upon to do so much in order to preserve the American way of life.

A little while ago I visited my native State. I had an opportunity to observe the hours of labor that men and women are performing in the production of the implements of war. As an example, the Caterpillar Tractor plant of East Peoria, Illinois, is employing approximately 15,000 men. Thousands of these employees live within a radius of sixty miles of this plant, and drive to and from their work. They leave home early in the morning and return in the evening. This is the type of loyal labor that is making the munitions of war which will ultimately defeat the enemy. Without loyal labor we cannot win the war. If we lose the war, American civilization perishes.

While there I talked with farmers, who also are working longer hours in order to produce the food that is necessary to feed the armed forces and the civilians at home. Farmers are patriotic and loyal. Without such spirit, we cannot win the war. Without food, no implements of war can be produced. I noted also that the business men in the small towns as well as the large cities are putting in more hours, because the Army has taken so much of their competent help. In other words, every loyal and patriotic American on the home front in this all-out war effort is working harder and putting in longer hours than at any other time during the last two decades. As a result of these conditions, the opportunity to cast a vote on election day in practically every State in the union has materially lessened.

In addition to these millions of workers whose voting rights have been periled, we all know that millions upon millions of soldiers and sailors had no opportunity to vote in 1942, the result being one of the lightest off year votes in all of our history. This same condition will exist in 1944 unless the Congress of the United States acts with dispatch upon constructive legislation that will provide a remedy.

Believing that no time should be lost to meet this situation, on May last I introduced Senate Bill 1089, which in substance declares that when a Senator, Representative in Congress, President and Vice President, are to be chosen at any election, the persons entitled to vote at such an election shall be given an opportunity to cast their votes at any time within the hours of six o'clock, anti-meridian, and nine o'clock postmeridian, on the day in which such election is held, and the polling places at which such persons are entitled to vote shall be kept open during that time.

This is a piece of novel legislation. However, it is basically democratic and American. It clearly reflects the spirit of our institutions. Section 4, Article I, of the Constitution, says:

"The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed ineach State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations, except as to the Places of choosing Senators."

Under this section, the power of the federal government to regulate the election of federal officials cannot be disputed. Once the States have prescribed the qualifications of voters, the Congress may protect the rights of those who have qualified. If the Congress only alters the regulations, leaving the general organization of the polls to the State, there results a necessity for cooperation between the two governments in regulating the subject.

I should like to have all understand that this measure in no way attempts to interfere with the election laws of any State or sub-division thereof. It affects only the election of federal officials. We in the Congress legislate for the citizens of this country in a uniform manner. Therefore, I submit that federal legislators should be elected in a uniform way, and that can only be done if there is uniformity in the opening and closing of the polls in every State in the Union. It is alarming—it is amazing to learn of the variance of polling hours which exists in the many States. The longest period of voting is from 6 A.M. to 8 P.M. The shortest is from 10 A.M. to 4 P.M.

Much testimony has been taken on this bill. The Honorable Harrison Spangler, Chairman of the Republican National Committee, endorsed this bill.

Senator Wilson of Iowa asked the following question: "Mr. Spangler, I understand from your statement that you are strongly in favor of the passage of such legislation as may be necessary to give everybody the right to vote."

Mr. Spangler: "That is right, and the whole country will be better off if we give the people that opportunity."

The Honorable Frank Walker, Chairman of the Democratic National Committee, in testifying before the sub-committee, said among other things: "My support of the Lucas Bill is non-partisan. It is hollow to talk of the right to vote unless we also guarantee the opportunity to vote. War conditions have made this legislation necessary. Today practically every man and woman of voting age is either a soldier of the armed forces or a soldier in the factory or on the farm."

It is advisable to state that representatives of the various labor organizations testified in support of this bill. Representatives of the farm organizations went on record in support of it. In fact, only one witness appeared before the sub-committee who was opposed to it, although admitting that the Congress has the legal right under the Constitution to pass such legislation.

It is interesting to note that a number of leading newspapers of the country have endorsed this bill, editorially. The Washington Star said on May 14, 1943, among other things: "The Lucas Bill deserves serious consideration. The election of 1944 promises to be of great importance at a critical time in the history of the Republic. Every man and woman eligible to vote should cast a ballot, after gaining as thorough a knowledge of the issues involved as possible."

The Springfield Republican, of Springfield, Massachusetts, in an editorial, dated May 19, 1943, said, among other things: "The Lucas Bill ought not be made a party issue in Congress. In certain States it might help the Democrats. In certain others it might help the Republicans. But in all the States for the first time in history, it will give the voters some time to get to the polls. The Lucas Bill ought to pass."

The Chicago Times, on Monday, May 17, 1943, in an editorial, said, among other things, "There has been only slight attention to the accommodation of the war worker who wants to do his job as a wide-awake voting citizen, but does not want to miss all or part of a working day as a soldierof production. The next year's election may be won or lost by the stay-away vote, because they may find it inconvenient to participate in the democracy for which the lads are fighting."

In addition to this very important measure, providing an opportunity for the civilian voter to cast his vote in the coming election, I have also in conjunction with Senator Green of Rhode Island introduced an amendment to existing law providing the method for those in the armed forces to vote in time of war.

In September, 1942, the Congress passed a law which attempted to give the soldiers in the field the means to vote. The efficacy of this law was a farce. In a large percentage of cases the election was over before the soldier's application for a ballot was received. He was too far away. The distance was too great. The time was insufficient. Therefore, he was totally denied the right of a voice in the government he was defending. I have frequently said in the past and I say now that the measure was ineffective for three reasons.

1. The Congress of the United States was dilatory in the passage of this law.

2. The provisions of the Act totally and utterly failed to give the men in the Armed Forces any real opportunity to cast a ballot for the candidates of their choice.

3. The officers of the Army and Navy were unsympathetic to the legislation, and therefore failed to cooperate with the men under their command in carrying out the provisions of said Act.

The bill which was introduced by Senator Green of Rhode Island and myself will simplify the existing law.

Insofar as voters stationed in the United States are concerned, the amendment provides that the Secretary of War and the Secretary of Navy shall cause to be printed for the use of members in the land and naval forces an adequate number of postcards which may be used by each member in making a request to the Secretary of State for an official ballot It is mandatory that these cabinet members cause the postcards to be distributed among the members of the armed forces in the various units of the Army and Navy. The Secretary of State upon receipt of the card from the soldier or sailor shall send him the official war ballot in envelope with voting instructions, which, when voted, shall be returned to the Secretary of State, who, in turn, shall transmit same to the appropriate election officials of the district, precinct, or county of the voter's residence.

This action will take place weeks in advance of the election in order that the necessary time is allotted for the transmission of cards and ballots. When hearings are held upon this bill, testimony may develop the fact that it might become necessary to hold the election for federal officials in the camps of this country rather than to take a chance upon the postal card method. In other words, it may be necessary to write into the law provisions setting up the same machinery for voting for those who are in the Armed Forces, stationed in this country, as is provided in the bill for voters serving outside the continental limits of the United States, which proposal I shall discuss next.

Title Three of the bill provides for the balloting outside of the United States. Under this title, the Secretary of War and the Secretary of Navy are directed to cause to he prepared and printed an appropriate number of official overseas war ballots on papers suitable for V-mail. A copy of this overseas ballot is set forth in the bill. It has a provision for a straight-ticket voting by writing in the choice of the party. It also provides space to write in the name of the voter's choice for President and Vice President, as well as the Senator, and Representative of the district, or Representatives-at-large. The bill further provides that these overseas ballots shall be sent by the Secretaries of War and Navy on ampletime to assure balloting, and it also gives them the power to cause ballots to be printed in foreign countries in the event they deem it more expedient and less expensive from the standpoint of transportation, etc.

The Secretary of State is required to furnish to the Secretaries of War and Navy lists of the candidates for office in order that these ballots can be prepared. One week after the receipt of the ballots, the Commanding Officers of overseas units shall take the necessary steps to distribute the ballots upon a certain day to all those who desire to vote. The Commanding Officers shall be responsible for the collection of same, when marked and sealed, and also for their being mailed. Ballots shall have priority in mailing, microfilming, transmission, and delivery. The ballots shall be microfilmed and processed the same as other V-mail.

When the Secretary of State receives the ballots from overseas, he shall transmit them to the proper election officials, as he does when receiving ballots from soldiers voting in this country. It should be said that this in no way affects the laws of the various States on absentee ballots. If the voter in the armed forces desires to make his own application through the proper officials of his home community in compliance with existing State laws, he is, of course, at liberty to do so.

My purpose in connection with this extremely important measure is to make it easier for those in the service to vote in the coming election. They will feel more tightly bound to their home communities and their own families, if the officers of the Army and Navy will enter into this with the same spirit as the officials of an election precinct. The men and women in the armed forces are willing to represent us and perhaps die for us. They should be made to feel by their superior officers that they are entitled to help us back home to have the kind of government they want. In the hands of these warriors is the destiny of America. They will determine on tomorrow what kind of a world we should live in. Not only their bullets, but the ballots, should help determine the destiny of this nation and the world for generations to come.

My thought is that both political parties must be represented fully, adequately, and honestly, on every ship, every island, every continent, where our boys carry the Stars and Stripes. If every man and woman in the armed forces is afforded the opportunity to vote without difficulty, then when the election is over, there will be no opportunity to criticize or prophesy a different result had existing conditions continued.

The bill is now before the Committee on Privileges and Elections. Hearings will be held as soon as the recess of Congress is over. The bill may not be perfect in every detail. I invite members of the Congress, or any other citizen of the country who is interested in this bill, to study it with the view toward making constructive suggestions to the end that there will be no question about providing citizens in the armed service the opportunity to vote.

In conclusion, I submit that under the Constitution there is no question but that the Congress of the United States has complete power and authority to enact legislation proposed in both of these measures. No doubt we shall hear the old questions of States' Rights raised in these issues. No one feels more keenly about the protection of the rights of States than I. I undertake to say, however, that the States' Rights issues have been subordinated many times in the past for less worthy causes. If we are going to establish justice, insure domestic tranquillity, provide for the common defense, and promote the general welfare, it is the duty of those who enact legislation to see to it that every voter, regardless of the location of his post of duty, be permitted to vote.