Written by College of Masonic Studies [UGL NSW & ACT, Australia]
When in time of war a company of soldiers go into camp for a night, the men can sleep with a sense of security only because along the frontiers of the camp certain of their comrades are on sentinel duty. The sentinel challenges all who approach; he permits none to pass or re-pass save such as are duly qualified.
The Ballot Box is Freemasonry's sentinel. It stands guard at the portals of the Craft to keep off all who are not qualified to enter; and there is peace and harmony inside those portals only so long as it remains faithful to its sentinel duties. Now that you have become a member of your Lodge, you will discover that in a certain real sense it is the very key-stone in the arch of our organisation. It is important for you, therefore, and as soon as possible, to gain a clear understanding of all it means and of the duties of a Mason with regard to it. I shall now call your attention to certain of these meanings and duties.
First, the Ballot Box gives decisive and practical expression to the principle of qualification.
Freemasonry does not solicit members. Petitioners must come of their own choice and free will. Of all those who thus come only such as have certain necessary qualifications are eligible for membership. The first use of the Ballot is to decide whether, in deed and truth, a given petitioner possesses those qualifications.
Does a petitioner have, or does he not have, the necessary qualifications? This is the question to be decided by the Ballot, and it is the only question to be decided. A man may be upright and honourable, a good citizen, a patriot, a loyal friend, and yet not possess the required qualifications. A black ball is therefore not a mark of disgrace. It is not a judgment on a man's character or on his personality, but is purely a technical method for deciding whether he is the type fitted for a place in the Fraternity.
For this same reason it is un-Masonic for any member of a Lodge to cast a black ball against a petitioner out of personal spite or private prejudice.
When we cast a Ballot we act in an official capacity as a spokesman, or sentinel, for the Fraternity. We are, so to speak, a member of a jury, and it is therefore unjust for us to permit our exercise of that function to be warped by purely private feelings. But as a safeguard, and to be absolutely just, we allow two black balls before a petitioner is rejected. [In the case of Lodge Jose Rizal, we have in our Lodge By-Laws, three black balls to reject. In certain Jurisdictions, one is sufficient to reject a candidate. MBJ]
Nevertheless - and here we come to our second point - the Ballot otherwise must be unanimous. The petition must be acceptable to every member of the Lodge. That is to say, when the question arises whether a given man should or should not be received into our fellowship the Fraternity itself receives first consideration. This is wise and just. The Fraternity has not solicited him; he is soliciting it. It is for him to prove his fitness. Consequently, if a member of a Lodge, not out of prejudice but out of certain knowledge, is convinced that the petitioner would disturb the peace and harmony of the Lodge, it becomes a duty to exclude him. The good, and welfare, of the body of men already in membership takes precedence over the desires and ambitions of the petitioner. [It is also important to note that the personal interview of the candidate is of paramount importance to garner the suitability or unsuitability of such candidate. Hence, together with the notifications of a candidate's application from both inside and outside the District; the investigation committee recommends to the Lodge the suitability or unsuitability of the candidate. MJB]
Our third point is that the Ballot must be secret. It is a violation of the Constitution and regulations of our Grand Lodge for a member to tell how he voted, or to discuss a Ballot in open Lodge, or to discuss the petitioner. This law has two general purposes: for one thing, it protects the peace and harmony of the Lodge; for another, it protects the petitioner. As a petitioner, he stands in a confidential relation to the Lodge; the facts he gives about himself are personal and private, and they must be kept sacred as such; the whole transaction is private as between him and the Lodge, therefore nothing about it should ever go to the outside world. If he is rejected it is for purely Masonic reasons and these should not prejudice him in the eyes of his fellows outside the Craft. [It is however a member's duty to bring any and all matters of fact in connection to a candidate's application to the Management Committee and to the Lodge before a ballot. In my personal opinion, it is better for the applicant to withdraw his application if there is unfavourable matter rather than reject an application via a ballot. MBJ].
Our fourth point is that every member of the Lodge must vote, if he is present, when the Ballot is taken. This means that the Ballot Box is a duty rather than merely a privilege. Membership in the Fraternity is an office and carries official duties - as much so as the occupation of one of the chairs; and one of the chief of those official duties is to exercise a watchful care over the quality and fitness of prospective members. When a Mason becomes a member, he takes responsibility to discharge the official duties incidental to membership, and for that reason it is as much his duty to cast an intelligent vote as it is for the Master to preside over the Lodge. [While EA's and FC's can not vote or hold office, aside from certain offices, in an election of the Lodge Officers; they are permitted to vote on a ballot and on Lodge's business matters. MBJ].
Our fifth point is that the Ballot is independent. This means that when, in voting, a member has exercised his best judgment in the performance of a duty, he is not answerable to any man, to the Lodge, or to Grand Lodge for his action, whether it is favourable to the candidate or unfavourable. This is the necessary corollary to the principle that voting is a duty; for no man can be held responsible for a duty unless he is recognized to possess the power and authority necessary to discharge it.
Officially speaking, every Masonic Lodge room has two entrances, and only two: the Outer Door and the Inner Door. The Outer Door, which is, as it were, the passageway between the Lodge and the street, is kept sacred to members, who alone may pass or re-pass through it. It is guarded by the Tyler, who works under the immediate supervision of the Worshipful Master. The Inner Door is sacred to candidates, its sole purpose being to serve as a passageway between the Lodge and the Preparation Room. What the Tyler is to the Outer Door the Ballot Box is to the Inner Door - a guard, a sentinel. It and it alone, can decide who shall, or shall not, pass through it. No obligation rests more heavily on the shoulders of every member than his duty to see that none pass that sentinel save such as are properly qualified. [As an aside, in some Jurisdictions there are two entrances to the Lodge room: to the left of the Wor Master and immediate right of the Senior Warden is the entrance of all members. There is however a second door to the left of the Senior Warden - to the North West corner of the Lodge is a door via a Preparation Room from all candidates enter the Lodge. MBJ]
It would be a mistake to think of the Ballot Box only from the point of view of its power to exclude the unworthy; its positive power is far more impressive. [For] consider a favourable Ballot is more than a mere grudging admission of a petitioner into membership. On the contrary, it has, at one stroke and for all time to come, decided that he is admitted into full and free fellowship with his Brethren. Your membership in your Lodge gives you no licence to raise any question as to the fitness of another member; you cannot quarrel with him because he may belong to some race against which you may feel a prejudice, or because he adheres to some church or religious creed in which you do not believe, or because he votes with a political party you are opposed to, or because he may not possess the degree of social polish you consider necessary, or because he is not as learned as he ought to be, or is poor, or possesses traits and habits that may jar upon you. All questions as to the desirability or acceptability of such qualities or lack of qualities were decided with complete finality by the Ballot Box at the time his petition came before the Lodge; and that decision remains in force! It is un-Masonic to consider him under perpetual probation: his period of probation ended when he was elected to membership and received the Degrees. He has been, and is, a Brother, and it is the duty of every other member of the Lodge to treat him as such as long as his membership shall last. [Whilst we are not a reformatory association, it is one of our duties to counsel; through mouth to ear an erring Brother. MBJ]
From this rapid sketch of the rules governing the Ballot Box you will see that when in the beginning of this talk I likened it to the sentinel on guard through the night, I was guilty of no exaggeration. Now that you have consummated your membership in your Lodge, let me urge you to reflect upon these truths so that whenever you exercise the power and prerogative of the Ballot, you will do so with a clear conception of your personal responsibilities.