The Ballot Box: An Instrument for Tyranny?

Allen E. Roberts

The ringing of my telephone awakened me from a deep sleep. It was the first night in weeks I had been able to go to bed before midnight.

As I stumbled out of bed I glanced at the clock. It was 11:45. Time to worry. "Hello," I mumbled.

Through sobs from the other end I heard: "Mr. Roberts, what's wrong with my husband?"

Wow! "May I ask who this is, please?"

"I'm Margo Franklin. My husband is George." She's still sobbing. "He came home hours ago. He has been sitting in his chair an saying over and over again, 'I'm not fit to be a Mason, so I'm not fit to be your husband.' Why is he saying that? What's wrong?"

Earlier in the evening George was examined in my Lodge on the catechism of the Fellowcraft degree. The majority ballot for proficiency was in his favor; the ballot on his moral fitness wasn't.

I wish I could have told Margo it was mistake, but I had respread the ballot. So I had to do what any Master hates to do: tell a good man he has been rejected for reasons unknown.

I told her I thought we could straighten this out and asked her to put George on the phone. lt was over five minutes before I heard his hoarse voice. I spent the next fifteen minutes trying to reassure him. I think I did.

The following Monday I went to our ritual class. An elderly Past Master asked to talk to me in private. He said he had put a black cube in the box because he thought George Franklin (no real names used here) took the ritual too lightly. He wanted to teach him a lesson. He asked me to assure George he would be accepted the next time. There was no point in telling the Past Master what I thought of his action, so I didn't. Many a restless night followed. What idiots we are, I though. How many times has the tyranny of one man who hadn't learned the lessons taught in our Lodges kept a good man out?

A little research informed me that only five Grand Lodges in the world (this was 1959) balloted three times on a man's moral fitness. Virginia was one of them. Shouldn't this be changed?

A short time later I submitted a resolution calling for one ballot to elect a candidate for all three degrees. No big deal. We already did this for petitioners who would receive courtesy degrees.

Business took me to Tazewell later in the year. I called Earl Wallace and invited him to have dinner with me. He was our immediate Past Grand Master and one of my favorite people. While we were eating I told him what I planned to do. He didn't think much of my proposal.

From dinner we went to his Lodge and fate intervened. Two young men were examined on the catechism of the Entered Apprentice degree. Both were excellent. When the ballot on moral fitness was taken, the first man was rejected There were audible gasps. I turned to Earl and said: "If that fellow has a close friend here, your second man is going to be stopped." Earl didn't think so.

The second fellow was also rejected. Earl looked at me and said: "I think you've converted me. I've changed my mind about your resolution."

In 1960 the resolution came before the Grand Lodge. There was some powerful opposition. The resolution was defeated, but the vote was close. Over the years I was often asked to resubmit it. I refused. About twenty-five years later the deed was done — by decree!

I have long felt no Master Mason should ever be subjected to a ballot for membership in ANY appendant body. About twenty years ago I submitted a resolution to this effect to our Grand Royal Arch Chapter. It was defeated, as I had expected. I still think the same way — even more strongly so.

Several years ago I was to be the speaker in my Lodge. The petition of a Senior DeMolay who was an Advisor in our DeMolay Chapter was balloted on. He was rejected. When I reached the lectern I told them there would be no jokes. I was too depressed. If there was something morally wrong with the Advisor our Master should be informed so that Advisor could be removed.

A Past Master jumped up. "Worshipful — Brother Roberts is out of order," he shouts. "You're wrong, my Brother," said I, calmly. "It's you that's out of order."

That Past Master, along with two of his peers, plus a member, decided charges should be preferred against me. To the office of the Grand Secretary, the late Archer Gay, they go. Archie set them straight. Charges weren't preferred.

We are told: "The ballot is secret and sacred." It's secret all right; I'm not convinced it's sacred. For years I've agreed with a young man who claims it "protects the tyranny of one-man rule." If I don't like fellows who wear bow ties, you'd better not bring a petition into my Lodge of anyone who wears one; he ain't gonna get in!

We all have heard horror stories connected with this tyranny. Many Lodges have virtually come to a stand-still because one man kept petitioners out for months. A. Douglas Smith, Jr., often told the story of how his dad wanted him to petition his Lodge. It wasn't safe to do it. A tyrant was rejecting petitioners there.

Recently I learned a young Coast Guardsman petitioned a Virginia Lodge. A committee visited him. He was told they'd find out how much he wanted to be a Mason. He would be stopped this time. If he petitioned again he might be accepted. He was stopped!

In checking the story behind this tale of horror, I learned this isn't an isolated case. Several Lodges stop a petitioner on the first ballot! They claim they want to learn how sincere he is! And we worry about the enemies WITHOUT the Craft! These enemies need not panic. A few of the members who haven't learned to be Master Masons will continue to handle Freemasonry's destruction.

Ridiculous? It certainly is. Those involved in this desecration of the ballot box should have charges of unMasonic conduct preferred against them immediately. In the case of the Coast Guardsman the tyrants are known. In most instances the culprits have the sanctuary of that "secret and sacred" box to hide behind.

Other than protecting tyrants and cowards who are concealed by a ballot box, what purpose does this receptacle serve? None! The Master controls his Lodge. A member with a legitimate reason for keeping a petitioner out only has to inform his Master of his reasons.

What do I recommend? Let's take the ballot boxes out of our Lodges, plus all Masonic-related bodies. Let the presiding officer ask: "Does anyone have an objection to the petitioner?" If there are no objections, the petitioner should be declared elected. If there are objections hold over the petition for further — legitimate — investigation.

Why use a ballot box in those jurisdictions that now require two or more negative ballots to reject? Why use one in jurisdictions such as Wisconsin? There if a petitioner is rejected, the objector must inform the Master about his reasons. If this isn't done, the petitioner is declared accepted a month later.

Except for permitting the continuation of the tyranny by one man, I cannot think of a single a single positive purpose served by a secret ballot. Can You?

Let's put into practice Temperance, Fortitude, Prudence and Justice, as we claim we do. Let's act as men and Freemasons. Let's do away with tyranny and injustice.

Let's prove we firmly believe in the Brotherhood of Man Under the Fatherhood of God.

July, 1988