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more light #279

The Ballot Box And The Act of Balloting

by Ed Halpaus
Grand Lodge Education Officer
Grand Lodge of A. F. & A. M. of Minnesota


At the start, I state and most emphatically emphasize that your ballot is Sacred and Secret and no one has the right to inquire as to how you balloted or in any way challenge your ballot.

All members present must ballot on a petition and it is an un-Masonic offense to disclose a ballot whether it be for or against a petitioner.

The expression ďto spread a ballotĒ is becoming rare, but it is used in some jurisdictions.  In later years, black cubes were introduced instead of black balls, in most lodges, as an additional precaution against errors.  In most English lodges they use only white balls and have two separate compartments, a yes and a no compartment, to deposit the balls.  The use of white and black balls or cubes cast into different receptacles may be traced back to Ancient Greece and Rome, where voting for various purposes of juries, required by voters to cast shells or pebbles into various jars.  Our word ostracized comes from the practice where, one was banished or cleared by casting of shells.

In the United States all jurisdictions require a unanimous ballot.  In 1948 there were 42 states that balloted for all three degrees with one ballot and in 12 states a collective ballot may be taken on all petitions that come up for ballot at a communication at one time.  If one black ball appears they re-spread the ballot on each petitioner separately.  Albert Mackay, the great Masonic jurist, believed that an unfavorable report from its investigation committee on a petitioner, was equivalent to a rejection by the lodge and that is such cases it was unnecessary to spread the ballot on the petitioner.  He stated if the committee made an unfavorable report they would surely vote in the negative against him.  He also stated that the proper way to take a ballot was for the secretary to call the roll of the craft and as each name was called they advanced to the Altar, saluted and deposited their ballot.  This was done in old English Lodges, but the membership there was small and the only members who attended were those who received a summons.  Modern practices have shown that what was right in the eyes of Dr. Mackay in early days, with small lodges, scattered far apart, would not work in our lodges today where we have a larger membership.  Just think if you had several petitions and had to call the roll of a lodge with a membership of two hundred members, it would take quite a while just to ballot.

It is common practice in most United States jurisdictions to re-ballot when there is only one or two black balls or cubes deposited, provided the ballot has not been disclosed by the East and no one has left the Lodge room.  The Master and both Wardens inspect the ballot.  This assures all brethren present that no mistake had been made.  The use of the ballot box is universal in the United States, and a majority of them are constructed so that the hands are concealed as a brother deposits his ballot.  The secret ballot, the unanimous ballot, the Ballot in which every member takes part in balloting, is the safeguard of Peace, Harmony and Unity for which all lodges strive.

The impression being given that the secrecy of the ballot is an ancient and fundamental tenet of Freemasonry, but there is little evidence of a secret ballot until late in the 18th century and no ballot box until the 19th century.  Notwithstanding all that has been said and legislated about the secrecy of the ballot, there are decisions declaring it as a Masonic offense to abuse the privilege of the ballot box by voting against a petitioner out of spite.  It is difficult to see how one can be convicted on evidence, the disclosure of which is unlawful.

When we elect a candidate it means adopting him into an inner circle of friendship by a moral and spiritual tie as close and binding as between two blood brothers of a family.

This being true, we should not elect a man that we do not think will fit into our family.  Still, no man is perfect, and the lodge is a moral workshop in which the rough ashlar is to be polished for use and beauty.  If the lodge had been too exacting, none of us would have gained admission.

The ballot box is the valve that controls the flow of the blood of a lodge and our fraternity.  It determines who shall have the privilege of transmitting the precepts of our fraternity, that which has been entrusted in our care, to future generations.  We know that the west gate of the lodge must be protected and that we are guilty when we vote for someone we know who is not worthy as to vote against someone we know is worthy.  Balloting upon a petition is a very vital function of a Masonic Lodge and as I stated before, your ballot is secret and sacred and must be unchallenged.  This is not a landmark of Masonry, but a tradition that has been handed down to us since it was originated and has kept us strong when other orders have failed.  The black ball or cube is a Giantís strength to protect Freemasonry.  If it is used thoughtlessly, carelessly and without Masonic reason, it will crush not only him at whom it is aimed but also him who casts it.

Now I would like for you to think about the solemnity of the occasion and the important role you play when balloting on a petitioner. If you will, picture the ballot box on the Holy Altar, the most important piece of furniture, excluding the Bible, in the lodge room; this has come down to us from our ancient forefathers both Jew and Gentile.  On this rests the Holy Bible, Square and Compasses, flooded by the representatives of the three lesser lights.  The Altar is located in the center of the Lodge room, half way between the Wisdom of the East and the Strength of the West, and half way between the Beauty of the South and the Masonic Darkness of the North.  Here, at the most sacred spot in the Lodge room, we advance and give the Due-Guard and Sign and deposit our ballot.  Here, each of us members present, act as judge and jury of every petitioner who seek admission into our Lodge.  At this most sacred spot, only you and your God know how and why you balloted as you did.  This is as it should be, secret from other Lodge members. If we have 80 members present we have 80 different standards or criterions to judge the petitioner by.  As I have stated throughout this presentation it is not to try and tell you how to vote, but to get you to give some thought to the act of balloting.  Are we not prone to vote on hear-says, when with a little extra effort on our part we could get the true facts for ourselves?  If we placed six brethren in a circle and whispered a statement to the first brother and let them pass the statement around the circle we would not recognize it when repeated by the sixth brother.  Masonry makes better men out of good men but none of us are perfect.  When we come into this world we are as the rough Ashlar and we work to fashion our Temples and our Souls, so they will be acceptable to God.  We know that we are going to make mistakes in finishing our temple.  We will erect part of it with materials, part of it with our acts and deeds, which will not be acceptable in His sight, so we eradicate these and reconstruct with good materials and are stronger by having had this experience and the Supreme Grand Master forgives us and accepts the rebuilt Temple.  Do we, as Masons, try to emulate Him in our daily lives?  Brethren, in visiting many lodges in the area, I have seen things that really bother me when balloting. PLEASE REMEMBER THIS:  Balloting is not a popularity contest.  If you dislike an individual, but he would be an asset to the lodge and you donít know of any moral wrongdoings, then it is your obligation to the Lodge and to yourself to cast a white ball.

I would like to close with a poem written by Most Worshipful Thomas Q. Ellis, Past Grand Master of Masons in Mississippi, entitled ďMy Ballot,Ē but before I do may I once again stress that this presentation is not to tell you how to ballot but to get you to think before you cast you ballot.

MY BALLOT

I STAND AT THE SAME ALTAR WHERE,

PROMPTED BY BROTHERLY LOVE,

I VOWED SOLEMN VOWS WITHOUT FALTER,

WITNESSED BY HIM ABOVE.

AS ONCE I KNELT THERE IN REVERENCE

I NOW STAND REVERENTLY THERE

MY THOUGHTS HAVE SUFFERED NO SEVERANCE AS I VOWED,

SO IíLL VOTE UPON THE SQUARE.

IF THROUGH FRIENDSHIP I FAVOR THE SEEKER

BUT THINK HIM UNWORTHY AT HEART;

LESS MY LODGE BY MY BALLOT GROW WEAKER

SUCH FAVOR FROM JUSTICE MUST PART.

AT THE ALTAR WHERE LIGHT FLOODED OVER ME,

IíLL BETRAY NOT THE TRUST THAT I BEAR,

IíLL SHAME NOT THE EMBLEMS BEFORE ME

SO IíLL CAST MY VOTE ON THE SQUARE.

OR SHOULD HE NOT BE TO MY LIKING,

BUT MERIT BY ACTION THE TRUST,

MY SOUL IíLL NOT PERJURE BY STRIKING A BLOW

WHEN SUCH A BLOW BE UNJUST.

IíLL WELCOME HIS STEPS ACROSS THE BORDER,

IíLL HONOR THE TRUST THAT I BEAR.

IíLL VOTE FOR THE GOOD OF THE ORDER,

BY CASTING MY VOTE ON THE SQUARE.

TIME FLIES AND BEFORE LONG MY PETITION

WILL BE FILED IN THE GRAND LODGE ABOVE.

IíLL BE GLAD THEN I TEMPERED SUCH MISSION

WITH JUSTICE AND BROTHERLY LOVE.

ďWITH THE MEASURE YOU MEET HAS SPOKENí

BY THE WORSHIPFUL MASTER UP THERE,

NO PROMISES WERE MADE HAS HE BROKEN

AND HEíLL HANDLE MY CASE ON THE SQUARE.

Remember, my Brothers; White balls elect, Black cubes reject.

Look well to your ballot.

Ballot for the good of the Order!

Author Unknown

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