September 17th, 2021


Will The Donald get lost in the rigging?

Wesley Pruden

By Wesley Pruden

Published Oct. 19, 2016

  Will The Donald get lost in the rigging? LBJ

Donald Trump says the November election may be "rigged" against him, and nearly half the voters in one public-opinion poll agrees with him. Even more voters than that say they're not confident their votes will be accurately counted.

Hillary Clinton professes to be worried that Vladimir Putin will hack into the American voting system and cook the result for the Donald. She doesn't say exactly how, but she has earned a reputation for mastery of the Internet. Who can argue with the mistress of the home brew?

Losers have often cried "we wuz robbed!" and sometimes with good reason. Some pols have encouraged thievery, others have tried to eliminate it. Appeals to the better angels of politicians haven't accomplished a lot, and technological cures haven't always worked, either.

It's usually the governors, who control most things in their states, who are blamed - or credited - for cooking election results. Gov. Earl Long of Louisiana, where fraud in many guises prospers, boasted that he could make voting machines "play 'Home on the Range,' " and sometimes did. But Louisiana is not unique.

In the days of the poll tax in neighboring Arkansas, prospective voters approaching their 21st birthday and their first ballot, could vote without having to pay the dollar tax. In certain counties these "maiden voters" could occasionally provide the margin of victory. Since "all politics is local," in Tip O'Neill's famous formulation, the sheriff was usually the most important politician in the county. One lawman who was particularly pleased with his work once observed that "this year we've turned out more virgins than whores."

Fraud is a particularly honored tradition in Illinois, which has sent more governors to state prison, and not just to inspect the latrines, than any other state. Chicago is where graveyard voting flourished, and in some places you might think that winners held their biggest and most enthusiastic campaign rallies in the gardens of stone.

Illinois held the key to the 1960 presidential election, and to this day many partisans of both parties say Richard Nixon, not John F. Kennedy, was actually elected president that year. JFK won the state by a single percentage vote on the strength of landslides in the graveyards of Chicago. Reporters later found 56 of the dead registered from a single residence. Mr. Nixon himself asked the New York Herald- Tribune, a Republican newspaper, to suspend its investigation of the Illinois vote because "the nation cannot afford a constitutional crisis." Ironies abound, too.

The 1960 vote was similarly close in Texas, where strange things happened by the hand of Lyndon B. Johnson and his friends. In one county 6,138 votes were cast from a pool of only 4,895 registered voters; 75 percent of them voted for JFK. Perhaps the virgins turned out in Texas, too.

Lyndon Johnson's magic in Texas was never more spectacular than when he was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1948, defeating a popular incumbent governor by a mere 87 votes in the Democratic run-off primary. The result is the standard all modern vote riggers are measured against, a theft to take away the breath of every aspiring vote thief. He employed the dead, the halt and the unaware.

The incumbent governor, Coke Stevenson, led by 20,000 votes in the wee hours of election night, with only the vote from San Antonio and several rural counties in the Rio Grande Valley still to report. Gov. Stevenson had won the vote in San Antonio by a 2 to 1 margin in the first primary, but when the San Antonio results arrived LBJ won a stunning "upset" by 10,000 votes.

The rural counties finally reported and the governor's 20,000-vote lead was cut to 349 votes. Over the next two days several precincts on the border made "corrections," cutting the Stevenson lead to 157. The next day Jim Wells County decided to "amend" its returns, giving LBJ his famous 87-vote margin. He was forever after "Landslide Lyndon" in the Texas. Just not to his face. He could never take the joke, not even years later in the White House.

His victory was upheld by the state Democratic executive committee by a vote of 29 to 28, and when a federal judge ordered the Johnson name taken off the ballot pending a full investigation, an aggressive young lawyer persuaded Justice Hugo Black to void the order. The lawyer was Abe Fortas, whom President Johnson appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court 17 years later. Coincidences in politics multiply like bunny rabbits in the spring.

Times changed over the following six decades, sometimes for the better. Elections are harder to steal now. But only a very credulous fool would say they can't be.

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JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.