ebook  History of Watertown, Wisconsin


Don’t Try To Make A Fool Out Of Me


Written and contributed by Ben Feld


Based on an April 1886 newspaper article


Contested elections are nothing new.  If the truth were known, there has probably been something questionable about every election conducted in our country.  Recounts and accusations of improper procedures did not originate in the twentieth century.


But a vote cast on something other than an official ballot is highly unusual, to say the least, and the very first such deviation from the regular voting practice just may have occurred just north of Watertown in the April election of 1886 in the town of Emmet.


It had been a rather uneventful election day with hearty, good-natured banter filling the air as each new voter entered the polling place:  “Cold enough for you?”  “Wet enough for you?”  “Got the oats in yet?”  “Glad to see you are still out of jail,” and the like, much the same as previous elections.  But then, at the end of voting hours, when the election board counted the ballots, the atmosphere became a bit tense.  Careful counting revealed there was one ballot less than the records showed had actually voted.  But they did find, among the ballots, a receipt for a $3.50 purchase.  Clearly that receipt had been put into the ballot box in lieu of the regular, approved ballot.  According to the information on the receipt, it had been the property of a citizen named Ruesch.


Now what is an election board to do with a personal business form which turns up in a ballot box?  No member of that board could recall any law or any paragraph in the election codes that covered such an eventuality.  Does one count it for the party that seems to be winning the election?  Or does it count for the apparent loser?  And how is such a vote counted when candidates for more than one office are being considered?  The books just didn’t seem to cover the situation, so far as any could recall.  There were no malfunctioning voting machines to blame, no hanging chads to be examined, and no dimples to be counted or rejected.  So far as they knew, this was a first conundrum of its kind.


In the spirit of friendliness and congeniality, the board of elections decided the receipt just might be of some value to Mr. Ruesch and thoughtfully gave it to one board member, Mr. Buckley, a neighbor of Mr. Ruesch’s, instructing Mr. Buckley to return the receipt to the rightful owner.


It was a thoughtful gesture but, being a man with a well-developed sense of humor, Mr. Buckley unfortunately showed the ersatz democratic ticket to a few parties who agreed there was a good deal of humor in such a mistake on the part of a voter.  Mr. Ruesch however didn’t see it that way.  He took offense, feeling he had been held up to ridicule and shame.  He resented the whole affair.  He felt so strongly he swore out a warrant of arrest and had Buckley, the election board member who was to have returned the receipt to its owner, brought to the court of Justice Beckman.


Justice Beckman saw the case or what it was; a petty, malicious allegation without provocation and with no substance, and dealt with the case by dismissing t he case against Buckley and surprised the plaintiff, Mr. Ruesch, by taxing him $18.00, the cost of bringing the case to court.


Mr. Ruesch, it was said, was a mite displeased with the outcome of the case.  It can be safely assumed, one would think, that he never again voted with a $3.50 receipt.