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- Goetcheus v Matthewson

o Inspectors of election have a right to ask a person who offers his vote, when
challenged, after questioning him on the matters specially designated, such
other questions “as may tend to test his qualifications as a resident of the town
or ward, citizenship and right to vote” at the poll when he is challenged, and it
may be conceded that they act in a quasijudicial character in putting “such
other questions” and in determining whether he answers fully the questions
which shall be put to him; but their jurisdiction and authority are limited to an
inquiry in reference to his place of residence and qualifications as an elector
o Act deprived a someone who refused to answer questions, from exercising any
rights of a citizen thereof, and thus examination of the plaintiff in relation to
that fact was authorized  but the deserter must have been duly convicted as
such by a court of competent jurisdiction, and there was no such proof
o BG: plaintiff refused to answer questions related to his servitude in the military
o Ruled that the question of whether an inspector can be held liable for rejecting
a voter’s vote because he had refused to answer questions required by the law,
is not involved in this case, and thus useless to answer. Plaintiff was wrongfully
deprived of his right to vote.
o Issues: (a) whether the inspectors can be held liable or responsible in a civil
action for erroneously rejecting Pf’s vote on the grounds that he had refused
to answer, either entirely or fully, any of the questions which they were
required by the law to ask (b) whether the act of the inspectors of election in
rejecting the vote of the plaintiff was ministerial or judicial in its nature [Dwight,
C.] (c) if their act was judicial, they would be liable to him if they rejected his
vote through malice, and if so, whether there was sufficient evidence of malice
to go to the jury [Dwight, C.]
o Rule: (1) the second article of the Constitution prescribes who of its citizens
and inhabitants shall be entitled to vote at an election to be held therein for
all officers who are elected by the people, excluding those convicted of
bribery/larceny/any infamous crime and those who shall make or become
directly/indirectly interested in any bet or wager depending upon the result of
any election [all citizens and inhabitants, minus those convicted of
bribery/larceny or any infamous crime, or who are directly or indirectly
involved in betting on the results of any election, shall be eligible to vote at the
(2) [synthesized] Article second of its fourth title, that if any person offering to
vote at any election should be challenged to vote, has to swear the oath that
he will answer the questions (related to his name, place of residence,
citizenship and certain other matters) truthfully to test his qualifications as a
resident of the town or ward, citizenship and right to vote at that poll.
(3) If oath is refused or he refuses to answer fully any question put to him, his
vote shall be rejected (section 16)
(4) if person so offering persists in his claim to vote (even if he refuses to
answer all questions posed), an oath is administered to the effect that he
possesses all requisite qualifications of an elector and had the right to vote.
(5) twenty first section of the act of Congress – only deserters duly convicted
as such by a court of competent jurisdiction were deprived from exercising any
rights of a citizen thereof, and there had to be proof offered or allegation made
of such conviction.
o Material facts: Pf had been duly registered as an elector in his district, and
offered to vote them. At the time of registration question was raised as to the
plaintiff’s right to vote, as it was claimed that he was a deserter from the
military service of the US. Pf did not have to declare he was not a deserter.
Having taken the preliminary oath before voting, he affirmed that he had been
in the US military service, but refused to answer on his discharge and leave.
His vote was accordingly rejected.
o Reasoning/application of rule: the defendant’s “jurisdiction and authority are
limited to an inquiry in reference to his place of residence and qualifications as
an elector, within the above mentioned requirements and provisions of the
constitution (pg 425). Even if the Pf were a deserter, no conviction, no proof
and no allegation, thus twenty-first section of the act of Congress does not
apply to Pf. “The matter which was stated to be the ground of the challenge
did not affect his qualification as an elector, and consequently, the questions
asked of him in relation thereto were not within their jurisdiction, or in the
discharge of their duty as inspectors.”
Since the questions asked were not even related to his qualifications as an
elector, issue (a) can’t even be resolved [this is what Lott, Ch. C said]
Inspectors’ “inquiries that they make are specifically pointed out”, and they
“have no general power to put questions”. Only ministerial, not judicial power.
“The only elements necessary to the action are the duty to do the act, neglect
of it, and consequent injury to the plaintiff.” By depriving him of his vote, they
have done an injury to him and are accordingly liable to him. An injury imports
a damage when a man is hindered of his rights.
Sufficient proof of malice as a decision of the CoA to the effect that no such
inquiry as that concerning the plaintiff’s desertion of military service could be
made of him; this notice was given to the Df several days before the election
and was published at length in a newspaper of respectability. The Dfs had
sufficient information to put them on inquiry at all events, but it can be implied
that the Dfs (inspectors) were unwilling to acquire the necessary knowledge
and, accordingly, substantially intend[ed] to deprive the plaintiff of a vote to
which they had reason to believe he was entitled.
Single rule: If the election officials go beyond the ministerial nature of jobscope,
they are liable for wrongfully rejecting votes in their judicial decisions. (?) BUT
in comparison to Jeffries v Ankeny, it seems like the election officials were
supposed to be judicial enough to interprete the legislation, such that if ¼ black
and ¾ white means white, then ¼ Indian and ¾ white means white also. Seems
like there’s a conflict???
Rule: citizens have right to vote?
o Judgment: Pf is entitled to damages because his right to vote was violated.