Saturday, January 30, 2010

Controversy in Pennsylvania-Ballot Reform

As many of you are undoubtedly already aware, there is quite a controversy brewing in Pennsylvania over a slate of ambitious reforms proposed by MW Thomas Sturgeon. While I certainly have an opinion about what is occurring there, this is an internal matter, and as such, it is not for me to make any suggestions as to how the Brethren of Pennsylvania handle the proposed reforms. The controversy does however draw attention to several important ideas, which are important for all Masons to consider.
One of the proposed reforms involves balloting. In most jurisdictions, one black cube is enough to deny a petitioner entry into the Fraternity. MW Sturgeon is proposing to change this requirement to three black cubes.
We are taught that harmony within a Lodge is extremely important. It is so important, in fact, that even an otherwise worthy candidate should be rejected if his acceptance would endanger this. As a result, unanimity is required to grant a candidate admission. Of course, if a candidate is objectionable enough to merit the casting of a black cube, then the matter should never even come to a vote, and the process should be stopped during the investigation. In theory this system should be held in high sanctity and never abused. In practice, however, this is not always the case.
To illustrate this point, I offer the following example from personal experience: an upstanding young man presented a petition to the Lodge. His father, a Past Master was the sitting Lodge chaplain. The investigating committee performed their duty and gave this young man the highest recommendation. When the time came for the vote, however, he received one black cube, and thus was rejected. Not surprisingly, the Lodge was stunned. If the candidate was truly unworthy, why did the Brother who dropped the black cube not bring his concerns to the Master during the investigation stage, thus sparing the candidate and his father the embarrassment of a negative vote?
As with many things, however, there was more to this case than initially met the eye. Even though Masonic tradition holds that no discussion should be held concerning a ballot, the Brother in question, in a fit of pique, made known his reason for rejecting the candidate. Apparently he had a conflict with the second signer of the young man’s petition. Instead of resolving the conflict in a Masonic fashion, he used the ballot box to exact his revenge. The unfortunate candidate was only incidental to the whole affair. As a result of this, a Lodge that was badly hurting for leadership and new blood lost an excellent candidate and an active Past Master.
Admittedly, cases such as the above are rare. They should be nonexistent. When an errant Brother abuses the ballot box, he not only puts his ego above the future of our Fraternity, but he also shows that he has obviously not taken to heart the lessons that it teaches. Thanks to the one black cube rule, any Brother with a chip on his shoulder can unjustly deny a candidate, and by custom, nothing can be done to stop him. Furthermore, since no discussion is allowed, this act of cowardice can be completely anonymous.
By increasing the number of black cubes required, the chances of this happening are greatly reduced. Rarely will two or more Brothers conspire in this fashion, especially if the reason for rejecting the candidate is completely un-Masonic as in the above case. Implementing this type of reform protects the sanctity of the balloting process rather than violating it as some claim.
Sometimes reform in our Fraternity can be painful. The shrieking choruses of “We’ve never done it that way!” or “This violates tradition!” can be enough to discourage even the most intrepid efforts. Despite this, reform can be worthwhile and even desirable. Ballot reform is one such instance. By instituting a rule requiring more than one black cube to deny a candidate, the sanctity of the ballot is only reinforced. In a perfect world, this would not be necessary, but sometimes even Brother Masons can let their passions get the best of them. With these reforms in place, worthy candidates will hopefully never be denied due to the un-Masonic actions of an egotistical Brother.
So mote it be!

Post script: Luckily, this story has a happy ending, if not for the original Lodge. The candidate waited the requisite time and then resubmitted his petition to the Lodge of his second signer, which happened to be about 40 miles away. He was of course accepted, and he and his father both are active there. In fact, the young man in question progressed through the chairs and is now a Past Master himself.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

One item of note: it is my understanding that no Brother may disclose how he voted. In doing so in a "pique", didn't that Brother commit a Masonic offence?

Were it me, I would have prefered charges against the Brother. Better to do so than continue with one who causes such disharmony and has such a lack of understanding of his Masonic profession.

Just my opinion.

(The blogger formerly known as Traveling Man)

8:34 AM  
Blogger Brother Jason said...

Here in Utah there are two options if there is a black cube found in the ballot box.

1) If there is one black cube in the box another vote must take place. If there is again a black cube than the petition is rejected.

2) If there are two black cubes in the box than the petition is rejected.

Reform is a necessity. As delivered during the third degree lecture in Utah, "[The ancient landmarks] which each succeeding age has framed agreeably to its own peculiar cast of thought..."
If we are framing the ancient landmarks to our own ways of thought, why can we not do so with the trivial?

4:38 PM  
Blogger Prexy said...

Well, apparently the comment I wanted to respond to has been deleted by its author. The gist of it was that there was a candidate in a small Lodge that had a long criminal record. Despite this, the Lodge was willing to vote the man in. This Brother felt that his black cube would be the only thing that would stop an unsavory character from being admitted.
I sympathize with this and certainly see the point. I will even admit that I haven't really considered this angle.
My only response would be that the Brother should voice his objections to the Worshipful Master, who then should consider the objection, and if merited, stop the process before it even comes to a vote. If it goes any further than that then there is definitely a problem with the Lodge. In such a seemingly clear case a vote should not even enter into the picture.

8:57 PM  

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