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The Election Case of Frank E. Hook v. Homer Ferguson of Michigan (1949)

Image of Homer Ferguson

Campaign irregularities; Senate reread some voting machines.

Petition received: Jan. 5,1949
Referred to committee: Jan. 5, 1949
Committee report: July 28, 1949
Senate vote: July 28, 1949

Result: Ferguson retained seat

In 1948 Democrat Frank E. Hook, former coal miner, woodsman, and lawyer, decided after ten years in the United States House of Representatives to make a bid for the Senate seat of Michigan Republican incumbent Homer Ferguson. General disorder at the polls, coupled with confusion on the part of some Michigan citizens who remained devoted to the Progressive party—which fielded no candidate in the senatorial election—resulted in an election day marred by rancor and charges of fraud. In this climate of dissension, Homer Ferguson won by more than 44,000 votes and returned to Washington for his second term in the United States Senate.

Statement of the Case
On January 3, 1949, Homer Ferguson presented his credentials and was sworn in without objection. Two days later, a petition submitted on behalf of the defeated Democrat, Frank Hook, asked the Senate to investigate charges of fraud in the Michigan election. This petition, referred by the Senate to the Rules Committee's Subcommittee on Privileges and Elections, alleged multiple violations by Michigan Republicans. Among his grievances Hook charged that towns with Republican majorities refused to appoint bipartisan inspection committees, denied the credentials of Democratic poll workers, and returned tally counts that exceeded the total number of registered voters for a community. A separate allegation stated that the collection of hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from Michigan Ford, Lincoln, and Mercury automobile dealerships represented a violation of election finance laws.

Response of the Senate
On July 28, 1949, the subcommittee returned a report favorable to Homer Ferguson. Committee investigators had traveled to Michigan in January and February to read voting machines in the disputed counties but found only minor discrepancies with the earlier official count. These investigators did, however, uncover evidence to support some of the other complaints. For example, they discovered that local election boards were not always bipartisan as required by state law. In a number of areas election inspectors acknowledged that they had failed to count for Hook split ballots in which the Progressive party was checked in general and an "X" placed beside Hook's name as the Democratic Senate candidate, in the absence of any Progressive party candidate for the seat. In several Michigan counties frustrated voters had tried until two in the morning to gain admittance to polling places where disorganization and chaos had especially "militated against the class of people attempting to vote after the completion of their day's work." In several precincts the lack of sufficient checkers added to the confusion and made the final counts highly questionable. Despite the ample evidence of misconduct at many Michigan polling places, the subcommittee failed to find that the unruly state of affairs had been intended to undermine the outcome for either candidate.

The subcommittee noted that the courts had already handled the Michigan Automobile Dealers Association's connection to illegal contributions. Under the Federal Corrupt Practices Act, several corporate figures had been indicted, pleaded nolo contendere, and been sentenced for their action. The Senate committee found nothing to link Ferguson to the fundraising by automobile dealerships throughout the state.

The subcommittee chastised Michigan election officials for permitting the circus atmosphere on election day that had, perhaps unintentionally, deprived citizens of their civil right to vote, deplored the decision to discard those ballots that voted for both the Progressive party and Frank Hook, and decried the methods of raising campaign funds. At the same time, it exonerated Homer Ferguson of knowledge or involvement in any of these matters. The subcommittee therefore recommended that no further investigation be conducted and that Ferguson be declared duly elected.

The Senate on July 28, 1949, accepted the committee's recommendation by voice vote, and Homer Ferguson retained his seat.

The unsuccessful contestant, Frank Hook, abandoned political life and practiced law in Michigan and Wisconsin until his death in 1982.

Defeated for reelection in 1954, Homer Ferguson served as ambassador to the Philippines from 1955 to 1956 before becoming a judge on the United States Court of Military Appeals. He died in 1982.

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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