Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Ballot Reform

Masons treat balloting as something holy and sacrosanct. Any suggestion that perhaps another way of voting might be preferable is met with shock and derision. “Mess with balloting? We have always done it this way (sputter, sputter). Why that’s downright unMasonic!”

Thinking about the reason we use a little box with white balls and black cubes in a secret ballot where all members of the Lodge must vote, you have to go way back to the 1700s. Masonry grew up with the United States growing into a nation. It became customary for each hamlet to have its own Masonic Lodge rather than one Lodge drawing from many different communities. As such the local town Lodge was in a village where everybody knew everybody else. Outside of the few big cities of that time like Boston, New York and Philadelphia, Americans lived in communities small enough in size for an individual to know every single person in that town. Therefore everybody needed to vote on a petition in Lodge because everybody knew the applicant. And everybody also knew what everybody else was doing. Private lives were not so private. If you did something you shouldn’t or acted in a manner that drew attention you can be sure that everybody else in town knew about it. Therefore it became necessary to shield those voting in Lodge from having their decision spread all over town. Rejecting an applicant could have serious repercussions especially if you were the only one to drop the black ball. Without a secret ballot any vote could be held up to ridicule thus putting undue pressure on the voter to go along with the crowd. To make a truly independent decision away from pressure and to avoid the mess of paper and pencil the present system was devised.

And for its day that system worked very well. But today is quite different or as they used to say, “This is not your grandfather’s Chevrolet.” Today we are much more mobile than our ancestors. I live in a suburb of Dallas 20 miles outside the core city. The population of my town was 28,000 in 2004 when I moved here. It is today over 50,000. Two hundred years ago in this population I would be living in one of the largest cities in the United States. The Dallas/Ft. Worth population today is 6.1 million.

I know about 15 people in my town and I would dare say everybody else is in a similar situation as I am. Casting a mandatory vote on somebody I have never heard of is not only silly it is downright dangerous. Yes we all rely on the Investigating Committee to do their job and inform us, but that committee in many jurisdictions is not a standing committee but one appointed as the need arises. Those who serve on the Investigating committee are far from professional investigators and the job they do is often very amateurish. If the investigation is superficial and only the sponsor knows the applicant then we often times are at the mercy of he who recommended the applicant.

And thus has risen abuses in this system. First we are blackballing men who should be Masons. But because they are the wrong skin color, speak with a foreign accent, are not Christian or happen to be a person we have had a run in with, well then a little black cube takes care of that! After all we must remember that Masonry in the USA is a WASP society. Since he who rejects does not have to answer to anybody then he can black ball for no good reason and there is no way to stop him. One Mason in a Lodge can and has black balled good and worthy applicants over and over again, voting his prejudices, and the system has no way to prohibit this abuse.

Conversely we are admitting men who should have been blackballed. Because nobody knows the applicant besides his sponsor and the investigation is far from thorough many a man slides in that should have been kept out. I am sure many of you who are reading this have served on an Investigating Committee. Let me then ask you, the reader, if you have ever asked an applicant if he should become a member and he would be voting on a petition would he hesitate to vote for acceptance of a black man? I’ll bet that one in a hundred would ask a question like that. That’s because we don’t screen personal beliefs, outside of a belief in Deity, just actions.

If we are relying so heavily on our Investigating Committee to properly inform us, the vast majority knowing nothing whatsoever about the applicant, why don’t we make the Investigating Committee the decision maker? We have a three member committee, majority rules. All that would be needed for acceptance or rejection then would be a minimum of two votes. No balloting, no white balls, no black cubes, just a vote of three members who have done a good investigation. The Investigation Committee then would decide who is accepted and who is rejected.

Before investing them with this power we would have to do few things. First let’s make them a standing committee each member serving three years. And let’s make the first committee consist of a one year term, a two year term and a three year term. Thereafter every election or appointment would be for a three year term. This way one of the three comes up for replacement every year.

Second let’s send any Investigating Committee members to school to learn how to do an investigation the right way. This could be a course offered by an outside agency or school or Grand Lodge. Perhaps part of the investigation process now might be an FBI check and a credit check.

Lastly let’s invest each member with the inability to say anything about their investigation or the person they are looking into. This would be just like the silence of the lawyer/client relationship or the Priest in the Confessional. So it's still a secret ballot, but now a secret among three. Not even the Worshipful Master should know what went on in the decision making process.

Now any member of the Lodge who has reason to reject an applicant can present whatever evidence they have to the Investigating Committee. But what has to happen here that heretofore has not is that the objecting Brother has to have a good reason. No longer will a man be able to be kept out of Masonry for no good reason like prejudice. Conversely those that should not be accepted have a far better chance of being caught with a permanent, professional Investigating Committee performing an in depth investigation.

What we will have succeeded in doing then is to remove this process from amateurs, from guess work and from a method of total permissiveness void of enforceable voting guidelines. That ensures better protection of the Lodge and an increase in fairness.


Tim said...

I must say, your idea is a good one. Having just endured a very unpleasant balloting experience ( I was the one that cast a black ball) even when all protocal is followed, people being human, egos and assumptions run deep.

Wayfaring Man said...

You cite that casting a black ball could be "downright dangerous" which begs the question dangerous to whom? Or to what?

Certainly there is nothing revolutionary about the practice as it has continued since at least 1717, and for all those blackballs dropped during that time - someone surely could earn a Ph.D. by calculating them - the fraternity has not been destroyed. Even during the height of Anti-Masonry following the Morgan affair, the secret ballot was not used against us. Instead they attacked us for cronynism, our oaths, and our supposed all-pervading influence on society.

What then is downright dangerous about a member casting a blackball? The fraternity has survived after having blackballed those men we have shunned, and provided that its traditions are left intact, I should think it will continue to survive regardless of the balloting procedures?

Although I certainly agree that in the history of blackballs, there surely have been some, possible many, that were improperly dropped - but shouldn't that be the decision of the member? Should we not trust our brothers to vote well for the interest of Masonry? Do we need more government within the lodge to assure that they do?