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The Election Case of George E.B. Peddy v. Earle B. Mayfield of Texas (1925)

Earle Mayfield
Earle Mayfield

Issues
Recount of disputed ballots; Senate review of state primary election regulations.

Chronology
Petition field: Feb. 22, 1923
Referred to committee: Jan. 3, 1924
Committee report: Feb. 2, 1925
Senate vote: Feb. 3, 1925

Result: Mayfield retained seat


Background
After the end of Reconstruction, the Republican party in Texas remained a shadow organization well into the twentieth century. Democrats enjoyed years of almost total state control as on several occasions Republicans failed to field a slate of candidates. In the 1922 Senate election, however, George E. B. Peddy, running as both a Republican and an Independent, rallied sufficient support to challenge Democrat Earle Mayfield. Mayfield, a lawyer with strong support from business and railroad interests throughout Texas, claimed victory on November 7, 1922.

Statement of the Case
On February 22, 1923, George Peddy filed a petition protesting Mayfield's seating for the term to begin March 4. Peddy, in a complex list of complaints, charged irregularities in both the Texas Democratic primary and runoff and in the general election. His allegations included the use of fraudulent ballot counting procedures, excessive expenditure of money, and the flagrant participation of the Ku Klux Klan on behalf of Mayfield. Peddy specifically requested a recount of the general election.

When the 68th Congress convened on December 3, 1923, Earle Mayfield appeared and took his oath of office. One month later, on January 3, 1924, the Senate authorized the Committee on Privileges and Elections to conduct an investigation into unlawful practices in the Democratic primary and the general election.

Response of the Senate
On February 2, 1925, the committee announced the result of its year-long investigation, which had included not only taking testimony but also recounting the general election ballots. Reviewing the ballots that had been transported to Washington, D.C., from Texas, the committee recorded thousands of irregularities for both candidates, in which ballots lacked numbers, the signatures of election judges, or the official stamp. Despite the clear and widespread violations by both parties, the committee decided the irregularities could not have altered the outcome of the election, since Mayfield received 221,596 votes compared to 117,599 for Peddy.

Although the committee discussed a number of the other irregularities cited by Peddy that dealt with state election laws and regulations, it chose not to challenge the authority of the state. For example, the report noted that the Texas attorney general had for the first time enforced a state election statute stating that a candidate's name could only appear on the ballot if he were nominated in a primary election. Since Peddy, like all previous Republican senatorial candidates, was selected through a convention process, his name was kept off the ballot. This action the committee believed to be within the authority of the state, even though the statute had not previously been enforced. The committee also refused to challenge a complicated Texas law that denied a primary vote to any party member who had not voted for the regular party ticket at the last preceding general election.

The committee also discussed but failed to confront the role played by the Ku Klux Klan in the 1922 election. The report noted that the committee found no evidence that the Klan spent illegal amounts of money on behalf of Mayfield. Although acts of voter intimidation had occurred during the primary election, the committee believed they had affected only local races and had had no impact on the general election for senator. The committee also noted that no evidence connected Mayfield with these actions by the Klan.

The report concluded with a recommendation that the contest against Mayfield be dismissed. The Senate agreed unanimously without debate.

Conclusion
In this unusual case, the Senate encountered the difficult problem of investigating a state's primary election procedures, a province long regarded as sacred to local control. It is hardly surprising that in this first inquiry, conducted during the era when the Ku Klux Klan was at the peak of its national power, the Senate chose to avoid some of the issues. Because these matters were central to the constitutional right of U.S. citizens to vote without intimidation, however, the Senate would be called upon to consider similar topics again in the future.

Earle Mayfield served only one term. In 1928 he was defeated for renomination by Tom Connally, who attacked him for his connection to the Klan. Mayfield returned to Texas, where he practiced law and remained active in Democratic politics. He died in 1964.


Source: Adapted from Anne M. Butler and Wendy Wolff. United States Senate Election, Expulsion, and Censure Cases, 1793-1990. S. Doc. 103-33. Washington, GPO, 1995.

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