With a national election coming up soon, there has been much talk about whether or not the national election might be “rigged”. When Donald Trump said, during the third presidential debate, that he wasn’t sure he would accept the results of the election, reporters and the social media went wild. The idea that an election must be fair and accepted by the country is basic to maintaining a democracy. Trust in elections has worked well for American voters and there have not been serious challenges to a national election for many years. But if you look back in history, the struggle for free and fair elections has been long and hard.
The American way of voting was based largely on the British system, but that was badly flawed. Only men who owned property were allowed to vote at all. Men who were elected to Parliament were not paid for their service, so you had to be wealthy if you wanted to run for a position in Parliament. Actually, the British don’t say they “run” for office; they “stand” for election. I guess that sounds more genteel.
The elections, however, were not very genteel. Even though an important reform bill was passed in 1832 to do away with some of the most obvious unfairness in elections—like having a member of Parliament who represented no one but himself –the elections were still not honest. Candidates would bribe men to vote for them. Pubs were filled on election day with representatives of the candidates who would buy drinks for any voter who promised to cast his vote for their candidate.
During the 1840s, a surge of protest against the way things were for the average working man began to grow. The Chartists was an organization formed to take power away from the aristocrats and make sure that average people would get fair treatment. They had six demands:
- Manhood suffrage. Every man, regardless of class or property, should have the vote.
- Annual elections.
- An end to the regional differences in the electoral system.
- Secret ballots (no one else would know for whom you voted).
- The end to property qualifications for MPs. This would mean that a man wishing to be an MP would no longer have to own property or land worth a set amount of money.
- Payment for MPs. This would enable men who were not already wealthy to stand for election to Parliament.
Both men and women joined the Chartist struggle and women were especially scorned by many anti-chartists in the media. Here is one view from the opposition:
The struggle was hard and long. I’ve been living with it for the past year and more as I’ve been writing my newest Charlotte Edgerton mystery Death Calls at the Palace. Finally my book is about to appear and you will be able to buy it on Amazon.com in plenty of time for holiday gifts. I’ll announce its appearance as soon as it becomes available.