The June 2, 1949 Herald

The June 2, 1949 Herald foreshadowed how intense interest in a pair of referendums on roads and education would be. The margins of the vote turned out to be historically lopsided.

From time to time stories of incredibly lopsided elections pop up in the news.

North Korea’s Kim Jong-un won an election with 100 percent of the vote. Ditto Iraq’s Saddam Hussein. Kim Jong-un’s father won with 99.9 percent of the vote, Raul Castro carried Cuba with 99.4 percent in 2008 and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad took 96.7 percent in 2007.

The thread connecting those names is fairly obvious, in that they’re all dictatorial strongmen and crooked as a dog’s hind leg to boot. When you see an election with those kind of margins it’s easy to think they were rigged, because they were.

But in Jackson County in the middle of the last century there was an election where 100 percent margins were reported in some precincts.

That wasn’t because they were rigged.

That was because, to put in mildly, the good folks in Canada decided they’d had a snootful of lousy roads.

At issue was Gov. Kerr Scott’s “Go Forward” campaign and two referenda featured on the ballot in June of 1949. Referendum 1 boosted funding for public schools. Referendum 2 did the same for roads.

For a sleepy referendum vote, turnout was staggering, about 60 percent of the turnout of the 1948 general election.

From the June 9, 1949 Sylva Herald:

“Jackson County citizens went to the polls last Saturday and by casting their ballots let it be known they are overwhelmingly in favor of better roads and schools. One precinct, Canada No. 1, left no doubt about their desire for the Governor’s “Go Forward Program”; the entire vote (64) was in favor of both road and school bonds. Two other precincts did almost as well. Of the 43 votes cast in Mountain precinct 41 were for road bonds, 2 against, and 39 for school bonds and none against; River No. 2 was another, almost solid, in favor of the issues. Of the 24 votes cast 22 were for the road bonds, 2 against, 22 for school bonds, and 1 against.

Sylva citizens were unwilling to go against the interest of their rural neighbors and cast a heavy vote for both issues. Sylva North voted 492 for road bonds to 35 against, 515 for school bonds to 12 against. Sylva South did equally as well, casting 642 for road bonds to 90 against, 669 for school bonds to 36 against. Every precinct in the county voted heavily for both issues, giving the total county vote for road bonds as 3,794 and only 393 against; 3,770 for school bonds as compared to 291 against.”

The news reported was supported by a Herald editorial, which also contained a passage reflecting continued bitterness over the building of the road over Soco Gap:

“Jackson County citizens let it be known in no uncertain terms that they are interested in better roads and schools and are willing for the State to go in debt to help provide them. Over 4,000 voters went to the polls Saturday and by a vote of 3,794 for road bonds to 393 against made it known that this Western North Carolina county favors the issue almost 10 to 1. The vote for the school bond issue was slightly less than for the road bond issue but the percentage in favor was some higher, the vote being 3,770 in favor to 291 against school bonds. Canada township, which has been more or less cut off due to the lack of adequate roads, let it be known that they are tired of their present state…

“From the tabulation of the vote by precinct published on page 10 in this issue of The Herald it is shown that every section of the county, including Sylva, voted heavy for both issues. Jackson county citizens voted for these issues on account of the definite need for improved county roads and new and improved school buildings. They have placed their faith in State officials in the hope of getting a fair deal of the program, even in the face of past road building deals and promises which have not as yet materialized. Jackson was dealt a staggering blow and permanent injury when the Soco Gap road was built, drawing 90 per cent of its prospective tourist business away from the county, and at the same time having the funds which were used to build the road charged up to the county, preventing the building and repair of other much needed roads. Our people have placed their faith in Scott’s ‘Go Forward Program’. We hope they will not be disappointed.”

A second editorial fired a potshot at city and suburban voters across the state for not being sufficiently enthusiastic regarding the vote. Statewide, Referendum 1 passed 229,493 to 174,647, a 56.8 to 43.2 percent margin. Referendum 2 passed 69 percent to 31 percent. While those margins were impressive, they weren’t close to the support reflected in Jackson County.

“Although we expected it to happen, it’s hard to understand just why the larger, wealthier counties and cities of the state voted against the road and school bond issues in Saturday’s election. We can well remember the condition of these counties and cities prior to 1920. Their farm communities had that neglected look, the towns and cities were small, streets unpaved, and buildings of the old type. What a difference today – beautiful country homes, surrounded by rich, productive farm lands, the cities with paved streets, modern buildings, and many new industries – all having come about due in a large measure to the State’s good roads program inaugurated by Governor Morrison. In the face of all this progress, bringing with it millions of dollars of wealth to the state, and especially that portion of it which voted against the present road program, it is hard to understand why the citizens of these areas could be against a program designed to carry them to even greater progress. We can take comfort in the fact that the majority of the citizens of the State have in the past, and will in the future, stand for a progressive movement of almost every kind. North Carolina citizens have shown their faith and their desire for progress more than once. The first big movement was the good roads program of the 1920’s, then the voting of a sales tax to provide a state-supported 9 months school term, and then the taking over of all county roads by the state. Next came the addition of the 12th grade to our schools, and now we have the huge road and school building program approved by the people which will carry North Carolina to even greater progress and development.”

In the end, Gov. Scott’s efforts yielded impressive results. By the end of four years the state had paved more roads than all the roads combined up to 1949. Later pushes extended phone and electric service into rural communities.

In 1949 regarding Scott’s ambitious program, the Herald opined on behalf of Jackson County residents that “We hope they will not be disappointed.”

We have a suspicion they weren’t.