Speeches & Floor Statements

Floor Remarks of U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) Secret Ballot Protection Act

Posted on June 26, 2007

I have enjoyed the remarks, as always, by the Senator from Pennsylvania. It is not a bad idea to consider labor-management relations in a bipartisan way. A good place to start doing that is in the Senate committees, where this discussion belongs, rather than bringing directly to the floor the question of whether we should just one day decide to get rid of the secret ballot in elections. The Senator from Pennsylvania has done a beautiful job of looking at history. Let me point to some history as well. May 13, 1861, was the day set aside in North Carolina for the election of delegates to the State Convention on Secession from the Union. This is a book by William Trotter about bushwhackers. Part of the United States in which I grew up and my family has come from is where counties and families were divided during the Civil War. On that day, May 13, 1861, according to Mr. Trotter's book, there was to be a vote about secession, and one of the most visible people in the square on that misty spring day was the sheriff, who was an ardent spokesman for secession. He had been elected, according to the author, and supported by the wealthier farmers and merchants, nearly all of whom favored the idea of secession. The sheriff had gotten a little whiskey and was boisterous and encouraged by his supporters. He went around town making it clear the prevailing sentiment in the county was for secession. He was in an exuberant mood because he knew, at the end of day, secession would be ratified. So exuberant was he, that he shot one of the Unionists, and that person's father then shot the sheriff. That day is called "Bloody Madison" in western North Carolina. But the point is that when the secret ballots were counted, despite the sheriff and the wealthy farmers and merchants, there were only 28 votes for secessionist delegates, and 144 voted to stay with the United States of America. The secret ballot they exercised that day was for a reason. It made a difference. In a little more personal way, a few months ago, we had a contest here among friends for our No. 2 position on the Republican side of the aisle. I sought it. So did my friend of 40 years, Trent Lott, the Senator from Mississippi. Going into the election, I had 27 votes. When the votes were counted, I had 24. The secret ballot we employ in our Senate caucus we employ for a reason. It makes a difference. The unions, in the 1930s, when they were gaining a foothold and being established, insisted on a secret ballot. They still have a secret ballot when the vote is to decertify a union. In our democracy, the right to vote is prized. We keep candidates away from polling places. We don't want people looking over your shoulder while you vote. We help you, if you can't read the ballot. We got rid of the poll tax to give you access to the ballot. The Voting Rights Act has become the single greatest symbol of the civil rights movement in the 1960's. The right to vote is the essence of our democracy. This proposed legislation is brazen kowtowing to union bosses. This bill creates the possibility that large union recruiters might come stand around you at the work site and encourage you to sign a card. They might visit your home. They might make phone calls. They might be like the sheriff in Madison County, elected by the powerful and very persuasive, going around with his pistol or his gun or his influence, or looking over your shoulder while you voted. Fortunately, instead of that scenario, we have a secret ballot, and we ought to keep it. What is next if we get rid of the secret ballot for union elections? Will we get rid of the secret ballot for union leaders, for Senators, for Governors, for managers of the pension funds? Even most union members want to keep the secret ballot. According to a Zogby poll in 2004, 71 percent said that the secret ballot process is fair, and 78 percent said they favored keeping the current system in place. So whether it is voting day in Madison County at the beginning of the civil war, whether it is the Senate caucus on the Republican or Democratic side, or whether it is a union election to organize or to decertify, the right to vote is precious in America. Not having someone looking over your shoulder while you vote makes that precious right even more precious. There is a reason we have a secret ballot. It makes a difference. I intend to vote no on cloture. I urge my colleagues to do the same.