The Charlotte News

Monday, July 4, 1938


Site Ed. Note: One vote in 12,000 turns a local primary election--believe it or not.

We read a pretty good fictional account some years ago about an election--must have been in a novel, title being something like "The Day Chad Hung". The plot was--did you read this ridiculous thing, too?--that a national election for President had turned on 537 odd votes in one state. We forget where it was set.

Anyway, it was totally preposterous. The whole election had boiled down to giving it to the Republican by one electoral vote supplied by this one state or to have a recount per the state's law because of the closeness of the tabulations. The problem came in from the counties which used these crumby little machines which filled up during the voting day and thus didn't drop the little pieces of paper off the hole to be punched in the ballot into the well below, causing Chad to hang, and the vote to be unrecognizable as such by the reading machine, requiring a manual human count.

Chad seemed to hang, according to the story, especially for those elderly and infirm too weak to punch it through or the working folk who came to the polls after work when the wells in the machine were filling to the brims--all these, according to the demographers of the state likely to vote Democratic.

So, this magnificent absurdity continues, after the contest over the recount or not, the Republicans asking that the 537 vote tally for their man stand while the Democrats seeking the recount plainly allowed under state law, and the state's Supreme Court having ordered the recount, the United States Supreme Court steps in and issues an injunction to stop the recounts while it takes up the case on an emergency hearing; and, lo and behold, (we liked to thrown the book out the window at this point), within 15 days issues its decision 5 (get this: conservative Republican appointees) to 4 (2 Democratic appointees, two moderate Republican appointees, one of whom had been appointed by the former President who happened to be the father of the would-be President under the majority opinion) in favor of stopping the recounts, premised on Equal Protection grounds, that there was no assurance of uniformity in the manual counting. All while adverting to a decision from 1892, McPherson v. Blacker, a completely anachronistic case for the setting of the novel--which was, of course, what else but the year 2000--, the century-old case, (that is a century old when the father of the would-be President was defeated by a Democrat, according to the book), having been decided at a time when only males over the age of 21 could vote.

The whole scenario is so blushingly silly, downright jejune in fact, that we forgot the name of its author--and dare not even wish to go back and refresh ourselves enough on it to find out. Undoubtedly, some of the same sort of stuff churned out by the truckload populating the supermarket checkout bins, the fodder intended for browsing while you wait for the scanner to pass over your items. (There's even a sub-chapter where the father President didn't know what a supermarket scanner did--and in 1992, not 1892. Just how credulous does this boob author think we are?)

And, we almost forgot the real kicker to this epic piece which contained every artifice known to political novels from time immemorial, save the ultima ratio regum: the Democrat won the popular vote by a half million votes nationwide.

So the Republican, by virtue of the one Supreme Court justice's vote turning the balance to prevent the recount in the one state and thereby letting the 537 vote majority in turn take the whole electoral college by a single elector, takes office in the end; just as in 1876, when they had a nearly, (save for one extra Republican substituting for the neutral who withdrew), bi-partisan commission decide the election--also by one vote, that being the one extra Republican on the commission. What a nightmare all that turned out to be in reality.

Ergo, everyone knows that the country has grown far too sophisticated since that time in the wake of the Civil War and Reconstruction to ever repeat that tawdry past, marked by wheelers and dealers and political bosses and machines in the nation's largest cities; hence, the complete absurdity of "The Day Chad Hung" (or, as we prefer, "Gullible Travels to Ultima Thule").

Nevertheless, while outrageous in its premises and poorly executed as it bodied forth, the novel was also very educational, even if less than what one could properly describe as erudite.

And, it did have a salutary moral in the end.

Importance of Voting

It looked for a time Saturday night when the second primary returns were rolling in as though there might have to be a third primary to determine the choice of Mecklenburg Democrats for County Recorder. Messers. Hilker and Howard stuck to each other throughout the proceedings like a couple of leeches, and when the unofficial count was in only one vote separated them. That belonged to Mr. Hilker.

This is "Believe It Or Not" material--a difference of one vote in nearly 12,000 votes cast. One spoiled Hilker ticket passed by precinct officials but thrown out by the County Board of Elections, one improper absentee ballot could make it a dead heat. An error of any kind in the counting at any box could affect the whole result either way.

But in any event, the closeness of the race shows graphically the importance of voting. As the count stands, any two of Mr. Howard's supporters could have nominated him, in which case any two of Mr. Hilker's could in turn have met the challenge and held the place for him. It all goes to prove that, after all, the people who vote decide elections, and that those who don't vote have nobody to blame but themselves if they don't like the way it turns out.

Strictly Private Fights

Roosevelt Cunningham, Negro, of [indiscernible number] East 10th Street, told police that he was attacked with a knife by Clara Chapman. He was taken to the Good Samaritan Hospital for treatment.

Paul Walls, Negro, was reported stabbed in the left side with a knife by Lee Johnson at 912 East Vance Street.

Isabel Garrison, Negro, of 1007 East Seventh Street, was stabbed in the side with a knife at the corner of Davidson and First Streets.

That is from the police report for the week-end in Charlotte, and there is nothing unusual about it. The same sort of thing happens every week-end in Charlotte, and more often than not there is a murder or two in addition to the slashings. What calls our attention to it is the notation in two of the cases that no arrests were made because the wounded Negroes refused to sign warrants. That is to say, the police apparently regard such an assault not as a crime against the State, as the law says it is, but as purely a private matter about which it is unnecessary to do anything unless the victim himself wants it done.

Maybe that attitude explains in part why it is that affrays and murders are so usual in Charlotte's Negro districts. Certainly, if there had been a murder, the police could not have insisted that the corpse swear out a warrant.

Temporary Means Six Years*

In addition to its other accomplishments, the last Congress made a notable contribution to our language. It completed the definition of "temporary" that was begun 'way back yonder by the 72nd Congress.

How well we remember. It was April, 1932, and the Treasury itself, oh, dreadfully short of maxima. The usual sources of internal revenue were failing to produce, and Bob Doughton and La Guardia had teamed up to put down the attempt to place a sales tax on manufactures. As a substitute, so-called nuisance taxes, in reality sales taxes on luxuries, had been proposed, and to make sure that the House did its duty, Speaker John Nance Garner descended into the well of the chamber and, like the Texas evangelist he felt himself to be at that time, exhorted the boys to stand by their country. These nuisance taxes, he explained, were only temporary; see the Treasury through this emergency and the Democrats would be in next year and would get things in shape.

That, we say, was in 1932 when those temporary penny taxes were imposed. They went off this past July 1 with the change of the fiscal year, so that "temporary," dear students of the language, in this instance meant six years. And as for the temporary Federal tax on gasoline and oil, "temporary" in that case apparently meant forever. At any rate, the taxes on gasoline and oil have not been taken off.

Toward Clarification

The economic survey of the South which President Roosevelt has instructed the National Emergency Council to make is a step in the right direction. There are all sorts of questions about the South which need a dispassionate examination and exposition. As for instance:

Whether living costs are on the average lower than in the North or whether it is only a question of a lower standard of living: and if they are lower, exactly how much lower?

The exact extent of the handicap under which the South labors because of remoteness from the great market centers and freight rate differentials?

What, within the limitations of the cotton system, can be done to increase the earnings of tenants and share-croppers, and to aid them to landownership in their own right?

And so on and so on. The Government already has vast masses of facts relating to these matters in its possession, but they are so involved and dispersed that nobody has got around the body of them. What this report will do is to organize them into a coherent form, and also include such new data as may be found desirable. And in addition, it is to be made up with the aid of an advisory committee, which offers a pretty good cross-section of conservative, liberal, and labor opinion in the South, including as it does such persons as J. B. Wannamaker, president of the American Cotton Association, Alexander Speer, former president of the Public Service Company of Virginia, Frank Graham, Gerald W. Johnson, and Lucy Randolph Mason of the CIO.

When Odds Are Even

Reading accounts of what the Italian and German bombing planes are daily doing to Spanish cities and what the Japanese are daily doing to Chinese cities is calculated to make us think that the general war which continually threatens would leave all the great towns of Europe in ruins and half the civilian population murdered.

But quite possibly it is not so. In the cases of Spain and China, the Italians, the Germans, and the Japs have an almost free hand. They can bomb these cities without much fear of retaliation. But in a war of the great powers it probably isn't going to be so. We may as well admit it, indeed, that, for all the humane bias of the democratic powers, they won't take it lying down. Mussolini and Hitler, swollen with megalomania, will perhaps be so foolish as to attempt to carry out the Dohet theory. But every time bombers sweep over London and Paris and Lyons and Marseilles, bombers will sweep over Rome and Berlin and Milan and Florence and Cologne and Munich. For every baby killed in France and England and Russia, a baby will be killed in Germany and Italy.

It is horrible to contemplate, admittedly. But it is what will happen. And it may very well have the effect that no amount of talk has had, and quickly confine the use of planes to military objectives.

Back to the Chair

Governor Hoey's recommendation that the State abandon the gas chamber and go back to the electric chair seems to us to be a good one despite the fact that Warden H. H. Wilson, of State's Prison, doesn't agree with it.

An execution in the electric chair is admittedly more horrible to watch than one in the gas chamber. The victim lunges against the straps. He groans and cries out. His flesh fries visibly where the water runs down from the fatal cap and the odor of that frying fills the room. But the chair has the one great merit of killing quickly. Unconsciousness strikes the victim in the same second that the switch is thrown, and the horrible contortions and burning that spectators later see are unknown to the dying man. The Negro Brice who was executed in the chair just before Wash Turner and Bill Payne died in the gas chamber was dead in four minutes. But Payne and Turner both required more than fifteen minutes to die.

It is probably true that the gas produces unconsciousness pretty quickly after it is inhaled. But it certainly doesn't work as rapidly as an electric current. And since by holding his breath the victim can snatch a few seconds more of life, by the gas method he is forced to take some part in his own execution. That is horrible.


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