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December 2000
It's In Our Own Hands
By John Paul Galles
     It can be a confusing and intimidating experience. As a result, voting is limited to those who are not to be intimidated by the process and to those who can be encouraged, manipulated or swayed to actually turn out. 
    
Having had extensive experience with political campaigning, I have witnessed numerous examples of political manipulation of votes and vote counts. One of my more amusing recollections was as campaign manager for a congressional race in the First District of Indiana in the early ’70s. State Senator Adam Benjamin was running against Representative Ray Madden, the incumbent for 30 years. It was a primary race, both candidates Democrats. Madden’s seniority was especially important because, if re-elected, he would become chairman of the House Rules Committee, a very powerful position. As a northern Democrat, many special interest groups, especially labor unions, wanted him re-elected for a 17th term. Benjamin was well respected and well liked for his performance in Indiana’s General Assembly.
     Campaign tricks were as rampant then as personal attacks and negative campaigning are today. In a fairly daring escapade, I had my staff dress up in white waiter aprons and caps and deliver specially ordered fortune cookies to a huge Madden dinner for several thousand party faithfuls at a local banquet hall. We put them at every place setting just before the dinner started. No one challenged us or suspected that the opposition was campaigning at their event. During the course of dinner, attendees were quite surprised when they opened their fortunes, “Adam Benjamin for Congress.” We created quite a buzz which was reported in the local papers the next day.
     Despite these shenanigans, power won out. Madden won by 3,200 votes out of 157,000 ballots. Having anticipated vote fraud and suspected specific precincts where fraud might take place in Gary and East Chicago, we placed a limited supply of volunteers in the larger precincts of Gary as observers. What they reported were instances where wedges had been placed under our candidate’s lever so that one could not pull that lever, and pins in the counters on the backs of machines so that the drums would not rotate and tabulate the votes for our candidate. They even reported big red circles around the incumbent’s name on several voting booths to make it easy for those who had been paid to vote and could not always remember their candidate’s name. Despite our vigilance in Gary, the political power brokers withheld the tabulations and ballot boxes from East Chicago from the county’s vote tabulation office until late in the evening.  When they were finally delivered, it seems that just a sufficient number of votes for the incumbent were delivered to provide for his margin of victory. We petitioned the Indiana State Police, the Attorney General, the FBI and others to investigate, but they would not intervene in a local election. Two years later, a more experienced Adam Benjamin defeated Ray Madden.
     It has been frustrating to watch this Presidential election — with all of its counts, recounts and court interventions — especially with the incidences of confusing balloting and counting rules, and allegations of faulty machines and political persuasion bordering on fraud. There will always be avenues for vote fraud and voter manipulation, but so many of the problems highlighted are within our control to avoid. If we truly value our right to vote, it is incumbent upon us to do all that we can to improve our system of voting so that every vote does count and we are not throwing away 120,000 ballots in Cook County or 20,000 in Palm Beach or rejecting military absentee ballots without postmarks when postmarks may not be available. While new technology may help minimize tabulation problems, it is at our own county level that we need to make improvements in the basic voting process — better designed ballots, more thoughtful and fair voting procedures and uniform counting regulations — to assure ourselves our Constitutional right to vote.  And to assure fair state and federal elections, we need to expect this of others as well. As “out of our hands” as the Presidential election results were this year, the integrity of the voting process is truly in our own hands.
John Paul Galles is the publisher of Greater Charlotte Biz.
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