APRIL 11, 1953
NEW YORK, Friday—When I was in New Orleans last week Dr. Will Alexander drew my attention to a little project that revolutionized voting in that Southern city and cleaned up a situation that had been quite scandalous. Interestingly enough, the work was done by women.
It always pleases me to find that women are good municipal, state and even national housekeepers. Training in the home may serve good purposes when you put it into use in cleaning up civic situations!
Dr. Alexander introduced me to this project by saying, "Do you happen to know that your hostess, Mrs. Edgar B. Stern, is responsible for one of the most exciting organizations that has ever been started in this city and that she has cleaned up the voters' lists?"
I didn't happen to know anything about it, but I was intrigued, and I asked for the story.
It appears that a group of women, under Mrs. Stern's leadership, got together and organized the Voters Registration League. The members belong to a number of organizations that had long been active in their government's interests and they got help from Louisiana's legislature. They already have attained at least two goals: (1) cleaner elections, (2) easier voting procedures.
By 1954 throughout the state the people will cast their ballots through voting machines. The league has a small office but a mammoth card file and the filing system they have worked out looks simple enough but it must have taken some time to figure it out.
Mrs. Stern predicted early in the league's existence that she and her fellow workers would find thousands of registration irregularities, and she was right. They found approximately 9,000. Many voters were classified as illiterate or disabled and, therefore, were entitled to assistance in the voting booth. Under that arrangement the person assisting would certainly know which way the vote was cast.
When it was discovered that such a great number was classified this way, a check was made on other cities and it was found that in comparison very few were classified as illiterate or disabled outside of the city of New Orleans. This touched off much publicity and the newspapers got interested.
One day Governor Earl Long said to Mrs. Stern in the presence of the New Orleans Parish Registrar of voters, "How do you know all these people are not physically disabled or illiterate?" Her answer was: "Mr. Governor, one deputy registered 32 voters in one day and 27 were listed as illiterate. What would you think?"
This was a nice easy way of illegally running elections!
Since the Voters Registration League has protected the voting, such things will not go on. And now a candidate may obtain a complete list of the voters in his district, so that he can carry on his legitimate work much more easily than heretofore.
My congratulations to Mrs. Stern and her co-workers. May the good work they have started spread to many areas of this country.