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The Election Case of George M. Pritchard v. Josiah W. Bailey of North Carolina (1933)

Image of Josiah Bailey

Campaign irregularities; Senate refused recount.

Petition filed: Mar. 3, 1931
Referred to committee: Mar. 3, 1931
Committee report: Feb. 3, 1933
Senate vote: Feb. 3, 1933

Result: Bailey retained seat

North Carolina Democrats retained a powerful hold on the state's politics throughout the first third of the twentieth century. Only occasionally did Republicans manage to capture public office, as, for example, when Jeter C. Pritchard served in the United States Senate from 1895 to 1903, and George M. Pritchard, his son, won a seat in the United States House of Representatives in 1928. When George Pritchard declined to run for reelection to the House and instead sought a seat in the U.S. Senate in 1930, the Democratic candidate, Josiah W. Bailey, defeated him by more than 100,000 votes.

Statement of the Case
On March 3, 1931, the day before the term of Senator-elect Josiah Bailey began, his vanquished Republican opponent, George Pritchard, filed a petition contesting the North Carolina voting procedures, which the Senate referred to the Committee on Privileges and Elections. Pritchard charged that the state's election laws had been deliberately framed to give Democrats an unfair advantage. He specifically claimed that, because all 1,800 North Carolina voter registrars belonged to the Democratic party, they enjoyed an unchecked opportunity to manipulate and alter poll lists and registration books. This control resulted in such abuses as Democrats selecting all Republican representatives for state, county, and precinct boards; registrars applying the voter literacy test only to Republicans; Democratic poll judges forcing Republican watchers to stand where they could not see the ballot boxes; intimidation of voters; fraudulent use of absentee ballots; destruction of ballots after the election; and keeping polls open only during the hours when Democrats were available to vote.

On December 7, 1931, Josiah Bailey appeared in the Senate and took his oath of office. Republican Samuel Shortridge (CA) immediately announced that he would present a resolution to challenge Bailey's election. Ten days later, the Senate authorized the Committee on Privileges and Elections to investigate Pritchard's charges.

Response of the Senate
On January 13, 1932, Democratic Minority Leader Joseph T. Robinson (AR) protested a resolution that would allow the committee to spend $10,000 on the investigation, which the Arkansas Democrat deemed had no substantive basis. The Senate accepted Robinson's suggestion that it wait to pass the financial authorization until the full Committee on Privileges and Elections could meet to evaluate the significance of the allegations. Three days later, the committee gathered, reviewed George Pritchard's original petition, and received Josiah Bailey's spoken and written request to dismiss the charges. The committee decided to permit Pritchard to file an amended petition with more specific evidence of the election misconduct. In late January, Pritchard submitted a list of forty-two North Carolina counties, itemizing the nature of the election frauds that he anticipated could be proven in each through a full investigation.

In March 1932, Bailey replied confidently that all of Pritchard's accusations were of a "dragnet description" and founded on speculation rather than evidence. Denying all the allegations, Bailey asserted that no recount could possibly be justified, because even if all the votes in those forty-two counties were thrown out, he would still have won in the remaining fifty-eight unchallenged counties by a margin of 71,000 votes. He declared that the number of North Carolina Republican votes in 1930 was comparable to those in preceding elections and that Republicans enjoyed "full representation throughout the state election system." He added that Pritchard had made a public concession speech after the election and gave no indication until March 1931 that he planned to contest the result.

No further action occurred in the case until February 1933 when a subcommittee of Privileges and Elections issued a report recommending that the contest be dismissed. In a brief statement, the subcommittee declared that both the original and amended charges against Bailey had been so vague that they did not justify the time and expense of conducting a recount or a full investigation, especially since the margin of Bailey's victory had been so great. Without taking a recorded vote, the Senate agreed to the report and dismissed the contest.

On February 25, 1933, the Senate agreed to award Bailey $1,500, Pritchard, $4,000, and the state of North Carolina $500 for expenses incurred in the case. The payment to North Carolina covered the state's costs in impounding ballot boxes for the recount that did not materialize.

George Pritchard continued his law career in North Carolina and in 1948 made an unsuccessful try for the governorship. He died in 1955. Josiah Bailey served in the Senate until his death in 1946.

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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