• U.S.

THE CONGRESS: 10,000,000 Voters

3 minute read

For six days the Senate gingerly held on to the dynamite-charged “soldier vote” bill. Many a Congressman sat down in a quiet corner and figured it all out on his thumbs. A Gallup poll last week said it simply: ten million soldier votes could certainly decide the 1944 Presidential elections—and very probably in favor of the New Deal.

The Lucas-Green bill was aimed at transferring the machinery of soldier balloting from State hands to a Federal War Ballot Commission. The longer the Senate held the Lucas-Green bill, the more it seemed to tick like a bomb. Several members struggled courageously to extract the fuse. Finally, at week’s end, the whole infernal-looking thing was thrown out. In its place, the Senate passed what amounted to a pious resolution: let the individual states conduct elections, as always. Let them arrange for their own absentee soldiers to vote. (This arrangement, followed in the 1942 elections, was a dismal flop.)

Everybody Said Yes. No Senator rose to say that a U.S. serviceman should be denied the right to vote just because he happened to be in Italy or the South Pacific. During six days of soul-searching and shadowboxing on a subject which came frighteningly close to every man’s $10,000 a year, each Senator who spoke paid his best oratorical tribute to U.S. soldiers. But the mechanics of the Lucas-Green bill worried the legislators into a psychologically intricate kind of jitters:

Was It Constitutional? Maryland’s legal-minded Millard Tydings, who finally voted for the bill anyhow, cracked: “We are all stretching the rubber band of constitutional sufficiency in order to support the pending measure.”

Was It Pro-New Deal? Some Republicans feared that the President might appoint a couple of New Dealish GOPsters to the proposed War Ballot Commission. Others feared that the Administration had a natural advantage with soldier voters. Ohio’s Robert Taft, proffering an amendment to forestall overseas Government political campaigning, complained: “OWI is engaged in propagandizing the entire world in behalf of the President . . . [and will] continue unless we prohibit that kind of propaganda.”

Did It Invade States’ Rights? Southern Congressmen bitterly and openly opposed what looked like a flank attack on the poll tax. Mississippi’s James Eastland spoke for a large group: “The sole issue … is whether we are to turn the election machinery of the country over to an aggregation of power-crazy bureaucrats in Washington.”

Was It Good Politics? In spite of the most careful Gallup polls or the sharpest Senatorial calculations, no man could say for certain how a majority of U.S. soldiers would vote next year. No Senator was any too happy at the thought of ten million decisive, unpredictable votes swamping the ballot boxes in 1944. A coalition of GOPsters and conservative Democrats did the heavy work in killing the Lucas-Green bill. But the soldier who goes with out a vote cannot put the full blame on the old anti-New Deal coalition. With clear-eyed candor, New Mexico’s suave Dennis Chavez surveyed his colleagues and remarked to the Senate as a whole: “We seem to be afraid.”

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