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title:“Remarks on the Proposed Bill for Regulating the elections of the Members of the General Assembly”
authors:George Mason
date written:1780-6-1

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last updated:Jan. 22, 2013, 8:04 a.m. UTC
retrieved:Feb. 27, 2024, 4:59 a.m. UTC

Mason, George. "Remarks on the Proposed Bill for Regulating the elections of the Members of the General Assembly." The Papers of George Mason. Vol. 2. Ed. Robert A. Rutland. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1970. 629-31. Print.
Manuscript, Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress

Remarks on the Proposed Bill for Regulating the elections of the Members of the General Assembly (June 1, 1780)

[ca. 1 June 1780]
The Month of March will be preferable to April for the following Reasons.
The Elections in April preventing the Assembly's sitting in that Month, tho' the Emergency be ever so great, may produce much Inconvenience, as the active Season of the Year, & the Opening the Campaign, in Time of War, is then approaching; this might be provided against, by holding the Elections, thro' out the Country, on the same Day; but there are some considerable Objections to such a Regulation, particularly the Danger of Insurrection of the Slaves, or disaffected. By Law, the Assembly is always to meet on the first Monday in May, & the Elections, being on the respective County Court Days in April, many of them fall so late in the Month, as to prevent the Members of distant counties attending early in the Session, to the great Delay of public Business.
The People, being wearied with too frequent Elections, seldom meet to chuse the Commissioners of the Tax, who are therefore generally appointed by the County Courts; this growing into Precedent, may encroach upon one of the fundamental, & most important Principles of the Constitution. If the Election of Commissioners of the Tax, & all other annual Elections were fixed to the time of chusing the Members of the Assembly, it wou'd more deeply engage the public Attention, occasion a fuller Meeting, & the People wou'd be in the habitual Exercise of one of their most essential Rights & Privileges; but if the Election of the Commissioners of the Tax was changed from March to April, it wou'd delay and impede the Execution of the Assessment, in many Particulars. The Members of the late Assemblys have been the nominal, rather than the real Representatives of the People; many of them have been the Choice of a Handful, a Neighbourhood, or a Junto. An ignorant or obscure Man may have considerable Influence within a narrow Circle; but it will seldom extend thro' a County; unfortunately Elections are now so little attended to, that a factious bawling Fellow, who will make a Noise four or five miles round him, & prevail upon his party to attend, may carry an Election against a Man of ten times his Weight & Influence in the County, and Men of Modesty & Merit are discouraged from offering themselves; this is the true Cause why we have seen our late Assemblies filled with Men so unequal to the Office: a Law therefore which wou'd bring the Body of the People to attend, & vote at their County Elections, wou'd be of the greatest Importance to the State. It is presumed some such Regulations as the following may effect it.
Let two or three Justices of the Peace, taking an Oath of Impartiality, superintend the Election, & be empowered to judge of the Qualifications of the Voters, upon the Spot; for as we have now annual Elections, there will seldom or ever be a disputed Election brought before the Assembly.
Let all the Freeholders, resident within the County, be obliged, under a certain Penalty, to attend & vote at their County Election, unless they send such reasonable Excuse, in writing, for their Absence, as shall be approved by the Judges of the Election; let such Excuses as the Judges have approved be certified, & filed, together with a Copy of the Poll, in the Clerk's Office of the County; or let the names of the Absentees, whose Excuses have been admitted, be added at the Foot of the Poll, &certified by the said Judges.
Let the Sherif, if the said Judges shall see just Cause, adjourn the Election, from Day to Day; and where it shall appear upon closing the Polls, that [less than two thirds] a majority of the Freeholders, resident within the County, have not voted, let such County remain unrepresented until the next annual Election, & the Sherif make his Return accordingly to the General Assembly. In order to ascertain the number of Freeholders resident within the County, &carry the Law into due Execution.
Let the Assessors annually, with their Assessment, return to the Commissioners of the Tax, an exact List of the names of all the Freeholders resident within their respective Hundred, & from these Returns let the Commissioners make out an Alphabetical List of all the Freeholders resident within their County, to be returned, certified under their Hands, to the Clerk's Office; a Copy of which List, with a Copy of the last poll, & a List of the Names of the Absentees whose Excuses have been admitted, to be returned, by the Clerk of the County, to the next Court after every General Election, such Court imediatly to appoint two of their Members to examine these Returns, & from them to make out a List of the Delinquents, to be delivered to the Attorney for the Commonwealth, who shou'd be directed by the Court to commence suits against. As the Countie's Representation will be suspended from the Fault of these Delinquents, their Fines shou'd be applied to the Use of the County, rather than to the Use of the Commonwealth. That the two Houses of Assembly, may have authentic Information, & proper Command of their own Members, the Sherif, besides the Certificate he delivers to each Member, shou'd make regular Returns to the Assembly.

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