Museum of Freemasonry - Masonic Library
When in time of war a company of soldiers go into camp for he night, the men can sleep with a sense of security only because along the frontiers of the camp certain of their comrades are on sentry 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 it’s sentinel duties. When in good time you are privileged to become a full member of the 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, 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 would now call your attention to certain of these meanings and duties.

First, the Ballot Box gives decisive and practical expression of 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 fact 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 not therefore a mark of disgrace . It is not a judgment on a mans character or on his personality, but is purely a technical method for deciding whether he is 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.

Never-the-less, and here we come to the second point, the Ballot should be ‘unanimous’. The petition ought to 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 positive and sure 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.

The third point is that the Ballot must be secret. It is a violation of the Grand Lodge Constitution 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 relationship to the Lodge; the facts he has given about himself are personal and private, and they must be kept sacred as such; the whole transaction is private between him and the Lodge, therefore nothing about it should go to the outside world. If he is rejected it is for purely Masonic reasons and these should no prejudice him in the eyes of his fellows outside the Craft.

The fourth point is that every member of the Lodge ought to 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 that 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 became a member of the Craft he took an obligation 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.

The fifth point is that the Ballot is inviolable. Once it is taken it is taken, and there is no appeal from it’s verdict. If a Master is convinced that some error was made while taking it he may order another Ballot to be taken at once (as when a member declares that he has made a mistake), but when he has announced it to be completed and the Ballot closed, the transaction stands finished beyond recall.

The sixth 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 was 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 recognised to possess the power and the authority necessary to discharge that responsibility.

Officially speaking, every 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, it’s 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.

It would be a mistake to think of the Ballot Box only from the point of view of it’s power to exclude the unworthy; it’s positive power is far more impressive. 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 to be admitted into full and free fellowship with his brethren. When you become a full member of the Lodge you will not be in a position 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 feel a prejudice, or because he adheres to some church or religious creed in which you do not believe, or because he may not possess the degree of social polish, you consider necessary, or because he may not be 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 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. He has been, ever since, a Brother, and it is the duty of every other member of the Lodge to treat him as such so long as his membership shall last.

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 exaggeration. As you approach membership yourself let me urge you to reflect upon these truths ; that you read carefully all the regulations governing the ballot in the Book of Constitutions of Grand Lodge; and that when later you assume the responsibilities of membership you will do so with a clear conception of the duty it entails to exercise the power and prerogative of the ballot.

Gleaned from ‘The Research Lodge of Otago No. 161 (NZ), Nov. 1971.
A Paper by Bro. T,. G. Winning, Gr. Lodge of Scotland.