Gotta hand it to Santa Rosa's Good Ol' Boys; when they wanted to steal an election, it was thoroughly stolen.
The year was 1908, and the insiders who had long controlled the town politically were facing a city election they were probably going to lose. Challenging them was an ad-hoc third party that called itself the "Municipal League" which was an alliance of reformers: Prohibitionists, voters deeply upset that Santa Rosa recently had legalized prostitution, and progressives seeking to root out the political "bosses." The latter posed a very personal threat to the ranks of the Old Guard; this was the same time that San Francisco was prosecuting its political boss Abe Ruef - and here in Santa Rosa, the leader of the Municipal League was a popular former District Attorney who wasn't afraid to name the men he claimed were the town's bosses.
The opening gambit to defeat the reformers was to unite everyone who backed the status quo, and the local Democratic and Republican parties offered a "fusion" ticket with identical candidates. The next move equally lacked subtlety; The City Council suddenly discovered there might be too many voters at one polling place if every possible man turned out (women didn't have the vote in 1908, remember). So ten days before the election, one - or both - polling places were moved in wards that were Municipal League strongholds.
Days before the vote, the Municipal League made the serious charge that they had a list of 170 persons who were registered illegally. "In most of these cases the persons so registered are Italians and it is believed their ignorance of the law has caused them to be made victims," the Santa Rosa Republican reported. One of the phony voters was even supposedly living with the secretary of the Municipal League.
Yet in an artfully-worded editorial, Ernest Finley claimed the Press Democrat couldn't find any evidence of fraud at all. "It is probable there is no real basis for any of the charges of illegal registration," wrote the main apologist for Santa Rosa's Old Guard. "Very often people forget and give the wrong street number." But in a passing remark the day after the election, the PD seemed to confirm that some illegally-registered voters were indeed caught: "There was some challenging of voters, but little or nothing resulted."
Methinks if it were truly "nothing," Finley would have clearly stated, "nothing" - and crowed about it.
CHANGE MADE IN COMBINATION
Wards Segregated, and New Officers Named
The City Council divided precincts three and five at a special meeting called for that purpose Friday evening, and passed to print the ordinance calling the election....
...Judge R. F. Crawford brought the matter to the attention of the council, and stated that there were over 700 registered voters in wards three and five, which had been combined. He called attention to the fact that it would be impossible to vote all these men in six hundred minutes allowed by law, during which the polls would be open on election day.
Mayor Overton declared that the wards had been combined as a measure of economy, to save the expense of a board of election officers. He said the council had no idea they were so many voters in the ward, and remarked that with the great number of voters there, the counting of the ballots would be seriously delayed over the other precincts.
Colonel L. W. Julliard said he would join in any request to allay any feeling that might arise out of the combining of the precincts. He said he would advise in all fairness that the extra board be appointed, in order that no man should be shut out from the exercising his right to vote. The vote on changing the combined wards was unanimous.- Santa Rosa Republican, March 28, 1908
ILLEGALLY ON THE REGISTER
Municipal League Has Long List of Non-Residents
The Municipal League has had representatives going over the city for the past couple weeks, and has a list of 170 persons they claim have been registered illegally. In most of these cases the persons so registered are Italians and it is believed their ignorance of the law has caused them to be made victims.
A reward of $50 has been offered for the arrest and conviction of any person found guilty of illegal voting at the election, and the registration deputy who made the illegal registration will also be prosecuted as a party to the crime. It is the intention to make examples of all who violate this law, and watchers will be at the polls during the day to see that the laws are upheld.
One peculiar fact is that one person is registered as residing at the home of Frank L. Hoyt, secretary of the Municipal League on Humboldt Street. Mr. Hoyt is amused that such liberties should be taken with him.
Four men are alleged to be registered at the residence of J. Hesseschwerdt at 1014 Ripley Street, and that gentleman declares they have never resided there. The League has information that the men are teamsters and live on the Sonoma road.
A vegetable gardener who resides on Sonoma Avenue adjoining the pumping station outside of the city limits, informed Albert O. Erwin on Friday that he and two of his men intended to vote at the city election, and he said they had been registered as living inside the city limits. He promised to bring Mr. Erwin a card Saturday morning showing the street and number from which he is been registered.
The League tends to prosecute every man who votes illegally and wherever there is a doubt as to the man's right to vote he will be forced to swear in the vote.- Santa Rosa Republican, April 4, 1908
With a great show a feeling Mr. Thompson charged that an attempt had been made to disfranchise a lot of voters by throwing two wards into one and making so many men vote at one place that they would not all have time to prepare and cast their ballots. The thing has been done here time and again, and the only idea of the council was to avoid unnecessary expense, but Mr. Thompson charged that it was a "dirty political trick." The precinct boundaries were established long before registration was completed, and before anyone really knew how many voters did live in the ward. When the attention to the authorities was called to the fact that some 600 men would have to vote at one of the one polling place another was immediately established, although the ticket is so short that all could have doubtless have voted at one place with ease. However, rather than have any possible question about it the above change was made. Nobody with any sense at all believed for a moment that the council desired to prevent a full and free expression of the wishes of the people, and Mr. Thompson himself knew it was not true, yet the charge was made in all apparent seriousness, both by the League paper and by Mr. Thompson in a public speech.
The charge of illegal registration is one that has been advanced during the past few days. Last night's Republican contained an article on the subject, and a long dispatch also appeared in the Bulletin. One of the specific charges contained in the Republican and Bulletin stories is that someone is illegally registered from 926 Humboldt street, the residence of Frank L Hoyt, secretary of the Municipal League. A close and careful search of the register made last night failed to reveal any such condition of affairs. Only one man is registered as living at 926 Humboldt street, and that man is Frank L Hoyt himself. When asked on the street last night about the charge, Mr. Hoyt admitted that he was not certain about the matter, but that he had heard such a report going around. He said there was one case he was positive about, however, and that was where a man was registered from 1552 13th street, the home of his stenographer. The register fails to bear out this charge. Only one man is registered from the 1552 13th St. and that man is James Townsend. He resides at the address named and is a qualified and legal voter. Another specific charge relates to 1014 Ripley Street. It is claimed that nobody by the name of Canessa ever lived there, but a consultation of the assessment roll shows that the property stands in the name of G. B. Canessa, and, while the place is now rented to J. Haselschwardt, Canessa and his three sons formerly lived at the address given. It is probable there is no real basis for any of the charges of illegal registration. Very often people forget and give the wrong street number, and as a usual thing people are very slow to commit a felony when they have nothing whatever to gain from it.- Press Democrat editorial, April 5, 1908