The Mail Box
To the Editors of the CRIMSON:
The participation of Harvard Law School students in the recent municipal election in Cambridge offers food for thought. Ordinarily, it would have been an instructive experience for law school students to observe the workings of a municipal election at close range. However, it is another matter to carry placards with slogans and hand out cards which aimed to deceive the voters.
Apparently, it was not realized by the Law School students, 2 or 3 of whom manned several of our 55 precincts, who carried slogans which were misleading, deceptive, and misrepresented the facts. They exhorted voters to vote "No" on the so-called P.R. (proportional representation) referendum using the sign "Save Plan E, Vote No," although Plan E is, and can be used as a form of government with either P.R. (proportional representation) or ordinary plural voting.
The referendum concerned itself morely with the question: "Shall the election of candidates for municipal offices of Plan E cities by ordinary plurality voting be accepted?"
Only Four Cities
Massachusetts election laws provide for the Plan E form of government with plurality voting. This system is employed successfully in Medford and Quincy. The Plan E form of government with the P.R. system of voting is used in Cambridge, Lowell, Revere and Worcester. 'The Legislature has recently passed a law making it illegal for any other city than these four to use it.
I questioned several of the Harvard Law School students who were active in disseminating the "Save Plan E, Vote No" propeganda for the "good government" Cambridge Civic Association group. It was also sponsored by the "non-partisan" Cambridge League of Women Voters. Several of the students had come from communities west of the Hudson River. Not one knew that P.R. had been declared unconstitutional in some states; that 24 cities had experimented with it during the past 50 years; that 16 of the 24 cities had repudiated it; and that only 8 cities in the United States now employed it. Only 3 students knew that Cincinnati used the system. None knew that apart from the 4 Massachusetts cities already named, the only other cities in the United States using the P.R. system are Cincinnati and Hamilton (Ohio), Hopkins (Minn.) and Oak Ridge (Tenn.).
The reason that the P.R. system of voting seems neither fair nor democratic is that from a slate of 35 candidates of which 9 councillors were to be elected, the Cambridge voter using the P.R. (number) system of voting was restricted in effect to 1/9th of a vote for 9 councillors. Likewise, from a slate of 18 candidates of which 6 were to be elected, each voter was restricted to 1/6th of a vote for 6 school committeemen. This was tantamount to using a chance or lottery system which is contrary to the American ideal visioned by our founding fathers.
At the same time, crosses (plurality voting) were used for the referenda or special balloting. The result was confusion, misunderstanding, mistakes, and thousands of invalid and blank ballots which went into the waste basket, to say nothing of the limited enfranchisement of the citizen, or the frustration of his right to register a vote for 9 councillors and 6 school committeemen.
Thus, under the P.R. system of voting which is not dependent on the Plan E form of government, but quite independent of such a form of government, the citizens of Cambridge were restricted to 1/9th of the vote for councillors and 1/6th of the vote for school committeemen.
In view of the foregoing facts, it was disturbing to learn that students of the Harvard Law School had been used to further an academically and intellectually dishonest scheme, although innocent of its implications.
I think that college authorities might do well to apprise students of the danger of participating in misrepresentations or deceitful practices by politicians who are cloaked in the garments of seeming respectability. Benediot FitzGerald '08 Cambridge