To Steal An Election


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That was generally done to every ward by the gentleman who had charge of the ward. Tweed, did you ever give any directions to any persons, to falsify or change the result of the actual bona fide ballots cast in any election? Tammany's fraud was so all-encompassing, says historian Mark Summers, that "even men who have passed through history with clean reputations thought little of raising a majority that way.

B oss Tweed died in disgrace, but Tammany Hall flourished into the twentieth century. Hearst had already beaten a Tammany-backed candidate in , winning a New York congressional seat with a lavish campaign that would have put New Jersey senator Jon Corzine to shame. But Hearst bit off more than he could buy in running for mayor—a key position in the Tammany empire. On election day, notes Hearst biographer David Nasaw, "there were instances of voter fraud, of poll watchers being chased away, of delays in reporting returns, of unopened and uncounted ballot boxes mysteriously turning up in the East River.

The New York Times reported that the challenger's poll watchers, having been beaten up and driven off by Tammany goons, "came into the Hearst headquarters last night with bandaged hands. Some carried their arms in slings. At about ten o'clock in the evening a report was received that the returns were being held back from these districts"—presumably as Tammany stuffed the ballot boxes to achieve the desired count.

One poll watcher, an R. Little, "had a finger chewed off and his face cut. While the newspapers deplored the violence, they also expressed relief that incumbent Tammany mayor George Brinton McClellan beat Hearst, by a margin of 3, votes out of more than , "cast. Hearst believed that he had won the election as ballots went into the boxes but lost it as they came out. After organizing a blue-ribbon committee to protest the fraud and demand a recount, he held massive demonstrations throughout the city and went to court.

But the courts and the state legislature ignored him, and no recount took place. N ew York City's corruption, severe as it was, was far from unique. In Baltimore, for instance, vote fixing could get even uglier: James Harrison, a biographer of Edgar Allan Poe, speculates that when Poe died in , he was a victim of ruthless vote-fraud toughs who kidnapped him and left him drunk and near death on a Baltimore street.

Political scientists estimate that in many urban areas, fixers routinely manipulated 10 to 15 percent of the vote. A study by the Brookings Institution, looking back on U. The corruption influenced national as well as local politics. Both major parties stole votes with abandon in the presidential election between Republican Rutherford Hayes of Ohio and Samuel Tilden of New York.

The race ended in a deadlock, resolved only after a congressionally created commission delivered the presidency to Hayes by a single, disputed electoral vote. At least three other presidential elections—in , , and —proved so close that fraud may have played a role in their outcomes, too. As the century closed, however, fraud gradually began to diminish, as popular disgust with vote rigging spurred reforms.

States began to require voters to register before Election Day. In Massachusetts, Richard Henry Dana III, son of the author of the classic Two Years Before the Mast , persuaded the Massachusetts legislature to adopt the "Australian" ballot—a government-printed ballot that would list all candidates and that voters would cast in secret in a booth. It became a model for reformers elsewhere. As changes spread to other states, voter "turnout" fell precipitously.

Historians Gary Cox and Morgan Krause point out that turnout in New York State elections dropped some 15 percent after the anti-fraud measures took effect.

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V oter fraud didn't vanish from American politics, of course—jokes still circulate about the late Chicago mayor Richard Daley's uncanny ability to get the dead to vote for him. His desk had a special drawer that opened in the front, allowing visitors to deposit bribes that then disappeared inside the desk. Hague's career began inauspiciously, as you might expect.

Expelled from school after sixth grade as incorrigible, he became a ward heeler for the Jersey City Democratic machine.

How to Steal an Election in Broad Daylight – Foreign Policy

In , he entered city employment as a janitor. Ten years later, he was mayor, and, through his control of the Hudson County vote, the leader of the state Democratic Party and the man who could dictate who would become governor or a judge. In , so great was Hague's power that he could order his handpicked governor to appoint his son, Frank Hague Jr. The Hague machine turned voter fraud into a science. On the Sunday before an election, the mayor would gather his ward heelers into a Jersey City arena called the Grotto and give his orders.

Now, one day in the year I come to you. This struck some people as odd, since a short time earlier, the district had recorded Republican votes. An investigation found torn ballots, others with unmistakable erasure marks, and yet others altered by pencil. The single Republican ballot, marked with a red pencil, "could not have been erased without doing definite damage to the ballot," investigators noted.

Reformers were always trying to clean up Jersey City elections, but they faced an uphill fight.


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In , the Honest Ballot Association sent Princeton students to monitor a city election. Hague's ruffians beat up five of them within an hour of their arrival. Several others, ejected from a polling place, went to see the mayor to protest. Later, Hague explained to Collier's magazine that the roughing-up involved "[a]nimal spirits, that's all.

I told my boys to lay off, but it was a pretty dull election, and they couldn't resist the temptation to have a little fun.

In , the Jersey Journal asked in a disgusted editorial: Some of them were locked up in the police stations; some were stuck on corners, with a threat that if they moved from them, a night stick would be wrapped around their necks. The only way to have an honest election in Hudson County under present conditions is with the militia.

Mayor Hague retired from office in , turning over the job of mayor to his nephew. Gradually, his machine lost control of the city, though Jersey's politics remain far from pristine to this day. Nevertheless, Hague's flagrant vote rigging was extreme for post-Tammany American politics.

Y et if Hague's ghost, or Boss Tweed's, took a look at a recent newspaper, he'd smile in recognition. Wholesale vote fraud is on the rise again, almost all of it trying to elect Democratic candidates.

The reason that the cheating is happening overwhelmingly among the Dems these days may have something to do with who supports the respective parties, say Larry Sabato and Glenn Simpson in their book Dirty Little Secrets. Republican voters tend to be middle class and not easily tempted to commit fraud, while "the pool of people who appear to be available and more vulnerable to an invitation to participate in vote fraud tend to lean Democratic. Barely a day has gone by in the run-up to the election without another outrageous story hitting the headlines.

In Lansing, Michigan, the city clerk's office complained in late September about 5, to 8, fraudulent voter-registration forms that had recently come in—courtesy, election officials believed, of the Public Interest Research Group, a liberal advocacy outfit. In Racine, Wisconsin, around the same time, election officials discovered that Project Vote, another left-wing advocacy group, had filed scores of applications with phony addresses and other questionable items.

The acting city clerk asked the district attorney's office to pursue possible criminal charges.

Ohio, Nevada, Iowa—similar stories abounded in states across the country. Why is such activity proliferating? It flows from the success of Democratic lawmakers in pushing aside clear, orderly, and rigorous voting procedures in favor of elastic and "inclusive" election rules that invite manipulation. A machine for corruption is the "Motor Voter Act," the first bill that President Clinton signed. But they had been handpicked for one key characteristic: When voters arrived in the polling booth, they were unsure which Sergeyev was their candidate of choice. The problem, of course, is that everyone realized the game that Yakovlev was playing.

The best manipulations are those that can be done subtly and legally but nonetheless ensure victory. The worst forms of pre-election manipulation are easily detected, illegal, and have little impact. Effective rigging ensures that you win and that you get away with it without losing legitimacy. Such strategies include manipulating the voter rolls, excluding opposition candidates from running in elections, and distorting electoral districts to maximize partisan gains gerrymandering. Sometimes, dictators, despots, and counterfeit democrats develop bizarrely ingenious ways to manipulate elections without breaking the law.

It was clear that if he were able to return and run for office, he just might win. Under Malagasy election law, candidates are eligible to run for office only if they have applied for candidacy in person — in Madagascar. So, rather than outright disqualify Rajaonarivelo from running for office, the president came up with a different strategy: Eventually, the deadline to file the paperwork as a presidential candidate passed. That exclusion of an opposition candidate was certainly illegitimate, but it was perfectly legal.

And with no major rivals on the ballot, the president coasted to an easy victory. Demonstrators protest outside the U. Supreme Court in Washington, D. Americans and Europeans may sneer at these tactics, but they are not limited to Russia and African island nations. Pre-election manipulation has been commonplace in consolidated democracies for a long time.

The most notorious example was Old Sarum, which had no resident voters at all. For many years in the s, the borough was owned by the Pitt family and elected William Pitt the Elder, who was prime minister in the s. If you wanted to take a master class in subtle and legal pre-election rigging, you might want to travel to the United States. This is particularly true of two of the most tried and tested methods for establishing a pre-electoral advantage: Distorted electoral boundaries loom large in every U. Opinion polls consistently show that Congress is viewed favorably by just 10 to 20 percent of Americans.

That is about the same favorability rating as cockroaches. But even with that dismal approval rating, only eight incumbents out of a body of representatives lost their re-election bids in This is one of the lowest turnover rates in the world — much lower than the equivalent figure in legislatures in sub-Saharan Africa that are by other measures considered to be significantly less democratic. Some of these uncompetitive elections are caused by demographic clustering, where like-minded voters self-select into districts just imagine trying to draw a balanced district of Democrats and Republicans in San Francisco or rural Texas, for example.

But gerrymandering also plays a role. Across the United States, self-interested politicians get to choose their voters rather than the other way around. And there are offenders on both sides of the aisle: Democratic gerrymandering happens in Massachusetts, Maryland, and to a lesser extent Illinois; while Republican gerrymandering happens in Florida, Ohio, Texas, and Virginia.

In net terms, Republicans have secured a significant seat advantage in the House of Representatives, thanks to the cynical and self-interested way in which congressional districts are drawn. But in the U. House election, the average margin of victory was In other words, one candidate got close to 70 percent of the vote, with their rival finishing with just over 30 percent. Competitive races are vanishingly rare. Out of House seats ostensibly up for grabs, only 17 were decided by a margin of 5 percent or less, and only 18 others were within a margin of 10 percent.

These statistics go a long way in explaining why many Republicans in Congress seem unwilling to break with President Donald Trump on anything of substance; they know that disagreeing with the president could mean losing a primary race to a fellow Republican or, in some cases, losing to a moderate Democrat in the general election.

Members of the Liberian Women in Peacebuilding Network wait for the verdict on a presidential runoff to be pronounced outside the Supreme Court in Monrovia on December 7, Liberia's Supreme Court ordered the electoral commission to proceed with a runoff delayed for a month by fraud complaints, but said that anomalies in the national voter register needed to be corrected first. While many leaders still feel the need to hand over bags of cash to influential village leaders in sub-Saharan Africa or Southeast Asia, some are now supplementing this with much more innovative strategies.

An arsonist does not have to keep burning down your house to convey a threat; rather, he can send the same message by simply shaking a matchbox anytime he walks past. In the same way, incumbents can intimidate voters with innuendo and vague threats — actions that are not usually illegal. In the past, voters might take money to vote a certain way and then vote their conscience anyway.

That made vote buying an inefficient and highly uncertain tactic. But some savvy autocrats have found loopholes: The threat of reprisals if the voter is seen to be disloyal makes vote buying much more effective.

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In short, while more elections are being held and more elections are being monitored to verify their integrity, the entire business of elections has become a bit like a game of Whac-a-Mole. Whenever Western observers get good at detecting and condemning foul play, opportunistic incumbents just shift their tactics or get better at hiding them.

The consequences of rigging are often negligible. There are countless elections that were blatantly and absurdly rigged and were never noticed or condemned by international monitors , either because of a technicality or because of geopolitical favoritism. Despite the wide range of rigging tools frequently deployed, only 20 percent of elections are condemned for cases in which significant manipulation was detected — and foreign aid was cut off following only 6 percent of all elections, suggesting that in most cases where manipulation was detected, the regime did not suffer financially.

A souvenir kiosk in Moscow offers a drawing of Russian President Vladimir Putin holding a baby President Trump, based on a similar propaganda poster of late Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. Things are going to get worse before they get better. Many western nations are turning their backs on democracy abroad.

How to Steal an Election in Broad Daylight

As Europe grapples with the internal challenges of Brexit and the rise of authoritarian populism in Hungary and Poland, it is less able to support democracy outside its borders in places like Madagascar and Myanmar. Elites in the upper echelons of many governments pay close attention to what is happening in Western capitals — and Washington in particular.

They take cues from the White House as a metric of what they might be able to get away with in the future.

Steal an election with Diebold machine in one minute

When the signals from the West clearly show an appetite for punishing those who rig elections, there is some scope for deterrence. But instead, since Jan.

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