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by Carol Laun
In the 18th and 19th centuries, Granby voters decided most local questions and elections by a voice vote or a show of hands. For State and National elections, a ballot box was used. In the 1890s, it was decided to vote for local issues by ballot, and this method was used even as late as 1950. The ballot box voting process had quite a few differences from the way we vote today.
The Salmon Brook Historical Society has the complete voting record from a special constitutional vote held in 1907. The legislators submitted a Constitutional amendment to the people of Connecticut. It was essentially the 1818 Constitution rewritten to organize all the previous amendments, which were scattered throughout the document.
The Granby Board of Selectmen called a special Town Meeting at 9 a.m. on October 7, 1907 at the Town Hall on North Granby Road (now the Grange building). All eligible town voters were invited to attend. After discussion, they had a vote by ballot. Seated at a table were the two town registrars, Harold M. Hayes and William Shattuck. They had to share a hand-written voter list. Naturally, there were only men’s names on the list.
After his name was verified on the list, each voter was given an official marked envelope and two small slips of paper. On one side of each paper was printed “Official Ballot,” and on the other side “Constitutional Amendment in the form of a revision of the Constitution.” One ballot had No and the other had Yes. The registrars watched while the voter made his choice and sealed his vote in the envelope. Before the vote could be dropped into the ballot box, each of the registrars had to sign his name on the envelope, as proof of a legal vote.
Despite the seemingly reasonable request for this amendment from the state legislators, they couldn’t resist adding a few other items. The terms of the Probate Judges were to be changed from two years to four years and the legislator’s salaries were to be raised from $300 to $500. The result of this vote was a resounding NO, both from Granby and the state. Granby vote results were 62 yes and 133 no.
All of the envelopes, carefully signed by Hayes and Shattuck, and all of the votes, were found in the Loomis Store attic, before the building was taken down in 1975. The Granby Town Clerk was Chester P. Loomis, one of the store owners, and town papers were kept in the store.
Other voting documents were also found, and one from 1895 contained a curious statement. Printed on the state form was “Number of ballots found in box marked “For Women’s Ballots” and the Granby Town Clerk just wrote “No Box.”
The reason for this was a bill passed by the State Legislature in 1893 that allowed women to vote “at any meeting held for the purpose of choosing any officer of schools or for any educational purpose.” The women had to be at least 21 years old, have resided in Connecticut for at least one year, lived in their town for at least six months, and they had to be able to read English. Women’s ballots were cast separately from men’s, in special boxes labeled “For Women’s Ballots.”
No evidence has been found that Granby ever had a box for women to vote on matters of education, even though the 1895 vote was a local election and included electing the Board of Education.
In 1898, the town voted on two question, along with electing town officials. First was for the town to take over the management of the schools instead of the individual school districts. The vote was 93 no and 35 yes. The other question was to determine whether any town residents would be licensed to sell “spirituous and intoxicating liquors.” This time the vote was 116 yes and 79 no.
Local candidates also had to report on how much money they spent during their campaigns. One man running for the state legislature listed cigars as his only expense. However, most of the sworn documents were similar to this one in 1900. “I hereby certify that my election expense as a candidate for Justice of the Peace at the Election Nov. 6, 1900 was nothing, (signed) Benton Holcomb.”
Quite a refreshing contrast to the millions spent on elections today.