It was very early morning on Wednesday November 9, 1960 and the mood in John F. Kennedy’s hotel suite was somber. Theodore H. White, whose Making of a President 1960 is the gold standard of campaign chronicles, describes the emotions in that room as whipsawing back and forth all night between a kind of giddy elation and premonitions of doom.
Early returns from the east coast had given Kennedy a huge lead in the popular and electoral vote. But by the time the polls closed in California at 11:00 PM EST, Nixon’s strength in middle America and the mountain west had brought him within striking distance of the Massachusetts Senator. States still in play included Texas and Illinois where the last great playoff between Democratic and Republican vote fraudsters was about to play out over one the longest nights in election history.
In any other context besides electing the leader of the Free World in extremely perilous times, this contest between the old-time political machines in the big cities and rural counties might have been seen as either high drama or low comedy depending on your point of view. As it was, it proved that both sides were in deadly earnest to come out on top and if it became necessary to bend, break, or mutilate the rules to do so, no stone would go unturned in “finding” enough votes for their candidate to prevail.
Indeed, as the night unfolded, partisans in both states played cat and mouse, reporting the “results” from various precincts in a chess game of cheating that included elements of psychological warfare as well as simple vote fraud.
Actually, there was nothing simple about it. The great political reporter Earl Mazo from Hearst’s New York Herald Tribune investigated the shenanigans in Mayor Richard J. Daley’s Chicago and ferreted out the truth of what happened that night. It seems that the downstate Republicans were cooking the results in the precincts they controlled – “long tallies,” fraudulent counts, and other well worn gimmicks boosted Nixon’s total over Kennedy from 9,000 – 16,000 votes for most of the night.
After the GOP would dutifully report a few dozen precincts for Nixon, it became Daley’s turn. But Daley was playing it cagey. He would only pull enough votes out of his hat (Mazo actually saw the cemetery where the names of the dead people had been registered to vote and had been checked off as having voted) to pull Kennedy close enough to Nixon, hoping to panic the crooks downstate into putting all their cards on the table and completing their precinct tally.
At around 5:00 AM, a Kennedy aide approached Bobby Kennedy (JFK had already gone to bed) and glumly reported that Nixon had a lead of almost 10,000 votes in Illinois with just a few precincts in Chicago still out.
Kennedy smiled a tired smile and told the aide not to worry, that Daley had those downstate Republicans right where he wanted them. And indeed, despite Nixon taking 91 out of 103 counties in Illinois, Kennedy won the state by nearly 9,000 votes. He did it thanks to Daley’s machinations which gave the Democrat an unbelievable 450,000 vote margin in Cook County.
No such drama was necessary in Texas. In counties along the Mexican border, it has been alleged that simple vote buying by the Lyndon Johnson political machine ended up giving that crucial state to Kennedy as well. By winning both states by razor thin margins, Kennedy was able to best Nixon in the electoral college 303-219 while beating the Republican by 110,000 in the popular vote.
It is said that the defeat so affected Nixon that he swore in 1968 that he would never let the Democrats steal another election from him. This led to Watergate and the rest is tragedy.
Following the numerous accusations of fraud in the 1960 election and in order to be able to accurately report on individual precinct tallies, AP, UPI and the 3 news networks entered into an agreement to monitor vote counts at the precinct level using volunteers who would then call the results in to a central location where they would be tallied and sent along to the networks. Called The Voter News Service, the VNS used everyone from senior citizens to boy scouts in order to get the raw vote totals from as many precincts as possible. Sometimes, there was a lack of cooperation.
After the 1960 scandals, Republicans and some reform Democrats, under the leadership of corporation executive Charles Barr, launched “Operation Eagle Eye,” a bipartisan anti-fraud effort. In the 1968 June primary, Eagle Eye poll watchers ventured into 600 machine-controlled precincts, many for the first time. They were offered bribes, threatened and terrorized. Their car windows were smashed, their tires slashed.
But generally speaking, the VNS (now known as the National Election Pool or NEP) did more to make American elections more honest than any citizens reform movement in history.
But really all it did was drive the fraudsters to come up with more inventive ways to game the system. While playing fast and loose with actual raw vote totals became much harder, the cheaters in both parties began to concentrate on more subtle forms of fraud. And each party has become adept in different areas of voter fraud over the years to the point that it is believed that American elections are now in danger of once again falling victim to being stolen given the right circumstances.
Beginning in the 1970’s, Republicans began local campaigns to intimidate minority voters to keep them going to the polls. There were many techniques used by the GOP including “election observers” who would ask for identification at polling stations and turn away those without valid ID – despite the fact they had no statutory authority to do so. There have also been reports of mailings made in black precincts that informed potential voters that if they had an unpaid parking ticket, they would be turned away from voting.
It is unknown just how much these tactics tamped down the minority vote. Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. charges in a widely read Rolling Stone article that up to 350,000 minority votes were prevented from being cast or simply not counted thanks to GOP cheating in Ohio. What Kennedy didn’t mention in his article was the shocking amount of fraud committed by Democrats which included taking a page from the GOP intimidation handbook as thousands of Ohio Republicans were called and told the wrong date of the election and given false information on where they could vote. Then there was the gaming of the registration system by the notorious fraudsters in ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) – a voter registration organization that pays its workers for each registration acquired.
ACORN not only submitted thousands of fraudulent registration forms. They submitted them at the registration deadline hoping to overwhelm the registrars, forcing them to rubber stamp the registrations without checking to see if they were legitimate. And a glance at the names on some of those registrations would have raised a few eyebrows; Mary Poppins, Jeffrey Dahmer, George Foreman, Michael Jordan, and Dick Tracy were just a few of the famous “Ohioans” whose names were gathered by ACORN.
Clearly, there was fraud on both sides in Ohio in 2004. Other states also had suspected fraud occur including Wisconsin, a state John Kerry won by 10,000 votes in 2004, which witnessed 83,000 election day voter registrations in Milwaukee county alone – around 20% of the vote total. Experts find that number highly suspect. And in Florida, Republicans were up to their old tricks with a mass mailing in parts of Dade County that warned African Americans to stay away from the polls if they ever got a traffic ticket.
Is there any way to safeguard the process while still making it easy and convenient to register and vote? Probably not. The ways to game the system are too numerous and our society is too open to absolutely guarantee that fraud of one kind or another doesn’t occur.
But there are rational, reasonable steps that nearly everybody agrees can help. Currently, only 17 states require the voter to show identification prior to casting their ballot. Despite support for such a measure approaching 80% of the American people, a very loud and vocal minority is resisting. Apparently, advocates for the poor believe that fees for identification are beyond the financial reach of those in poverty. And even if the state were to supply the ID’s for free, there are some who believe it constitutes an unnecessary burden on the people.
What it does is place a burden on those who shouldn’t be allowed to vote in the first place; illegal aliens.
John Fund, whose book Stealing Elections: How Voter Fraud Threatens Our Democracy details dozens of voter fraud cases, recently wrote of the Voter ID Laws and the resistance to them by advocates for illegal immigrants:
The potential for fraud is not trivial, as federal privacy laws prevent cross-checking voter registration rolls with immigration records. Nevertheless, a 1997 Congressional investigation found that “4,023 illegal voters possibly cast ballots in [a] disputed House election” in California. After 9/11, the Justice Department found that eight of the 19 hijackers were registered to vote.
Under pressure from liberal groups, some states have even abandoned the requirement that people check a citizenship box to be put on the voter rolls. Iowa has told local registrars they should register people even if they leave the citizenship box blank. Maryland officials wave illegal immigrants through the registration process, prompting a Justice Department letter warning they may be helping people violate federal law.
We’ve come a long way from the days that George Washington hosted a kegger on election day for the House of Burgesses, buying votes by getting his constituents liquored up. That and vote buying were early traditions in this country, as much a part of election day as the flag and apple pie. Gradually, people started to demand that their vote actually count – that it count only once and that it count in their name. It was a long time coming, but various reform movements, both Democratic and Republican, eventually cleaned up much of the overt fraud and corruption, making elections cleaner and more fair.
But resistance to common sense measures today to reduce voter fraud as well as a reluctance on the part of many to acknowledge that it is even a problem, threatens to make the American people even more cynical and disgusted with politics – a pretty good trick considering how far the bile has risen in their throats these last few years because of the faithlessness and corruption run rampant in our nation’s capitol.
Without trust and faith that the people have a say in their government, this Grand Experiment will wither and die. Securing our elections better will be a small but significant step toward restoring faith and keep the flame of liberty burning in the treacherous winds of politics.
Rick Moran blogs at Right Wing Nut House.