After months of political advertisements and debates, citizens turn out to elect their Representatives on Election Day. Incumbent and hopeful Members of Congress also show up at the polls in their home districts, casting a ballot (presumably) for themselves. Three photographs from the House Collection show past Representatives in the act of voting, while also posing for a good photo op.
In 1942, Augustus Bennet was a lawyer in Newburgh, N.Y., hoping to defeat incumbent Hamilton Fish for a House seat. Bennet’s first attempt to unseat Fish, a fellow New York Republican, was unsuccessful. As the United States played a larger role in international politics, Fish’s isolationist policies seemed increasingly behind-the-times, and Bennet tried again two years later.
But Bennet lost the Republican primary to Fish again in 1944. Instead of giving up, he went to his back-up plan: He ran for the seat under the Democratic, Liberal, American Labor, and Good Government parties. Democrats frustrated with Fish backed him. In this image from 1944, candidate Bennet leans over a table to sign the voting register. His wife stands to the right as Leonore Churlo, the election inspector, scrutinizes his signature.
The general election pitted Bennet against Fish, who ran on the Republican and Jeffersonian Democratic tickets. Actress Helen Hayes backed Bennet, and his campaign also benefitted from redistricting in the state, which moved some stalwart Fish supporters to a different district. Despite his loss in the Republican primary, Bennet won in the general election. As a Democrat, Bennet amassed more votes than Fish did on the Republican ticket—but once sworn in to the House, he switched parties and served as a Republican in the 79th Congress.
A similar photograph shows William Warren Scranton, who appeared on the ballot in 1962 after serving one term in Congress. This time, he was running for governor of Pennsylvania. Scranton campaigned with his wife, Mary. The Wall Street Journal described a typical long day for Scranton in Philadelphia: “He sought handshakes in a public housing project, at the gate of a warehouse at quitting time, in a home of the aged, in a Horn & Hardart Automat at the evening meal hour and in the cool, dark confines of a downtown pool hall.”
Although the Baltimore Sun teasingly described Scranton as “so careless about clothes that he sometimes looks like an unmade bed,” he dressed up in a coat, button-down shirt, and tie (albeit slightly askew) to vote, as this photograph shows. Both Mary and a poll official look on as he signs the voter register with a hint of a smile before heading into the booth. Scranton, whose family lent its name to the Pennsylvania town, won the gubernatorial election.
While Scranton shook hands all day long and Bennet swapped parties, Adolph Sabath took a different path for his 1950 election. Having already served 22 consecutive terms, Sabath was well known in his Chicago district. So well-known that, as the New York Times reported, “He got elected once again without making a single speech to his voters or spending a penny on political advertisements.”
Even though he sailed into Congress yet again, Sabath was used to a fight. During a debate in the 81st Congress, the scrappy, 5'4" Representative ended up in an altercation with Edward Eugene Cox. Sabath, the Dean of the House, or longest-serving Member, had promised Cox time to debate a bill but didn’t deliver. In response, Cox got physical: “I just sort of brushed him on the cheek,” he explained. However, reporters seated in the gallery overlooking the House Floor embellished the story, writing that octogenarian Sabath jabbed right and hooked left until the match was called by the Sergeant at Arms.
Sabath was photographed in the act of voting. He slips his ballot, folded for privacy, into a ballot box already full of votes. The paper is labeled with the precinct (51) and the ward (28), matching the ballot box. As the photo caption explains, Sabath grinningly “casts his vote in Chicago’s 51st precinct to help himself along toward another two-year term.”
On Election Day, these Representatives made sure to get out the vote—their own vote.
Sources: Wall Street Journal, August 27, 1962; Baltimore Sun, July 30, 1944 and December 16, 1962; and New York Times, July 31, 1944, November 8, 1944, and January 21, 1951.Follow @USHouseHistory