Still upset by the events of 2000 and 2004? It won’t cheer you to learn from this wide-ranging book that election-rigging is a time-honored American institution.
Political historian Campbell (Short of the Glory, 1998) admits to having been dismayed at the results of the 2000 presidential election. Yet, she writes, it was strange solace to know “that the process itself was deeply corrupted and had been so for over two hundred years.” The corruption she charts is satisfyingly varied in terms of both geography and levels of wrongdoing, from George Washington’s practice of buying votes to Boss Tweed and Richard Daley’s absolutist control over the ballot boxes of New York and Chicago to the dirty tricks of the Nixon era and beyond. Sometimes the corruption is of a forgivable nature, as when absentee ballots cast by Civil War soldiers were ignored lest they give the Union presidency to a Democratic peace candidate; other times it is simply sleazy, as when the president of the country’s leading manufacturer of voting machines promised to deliver the vote to Dubya lest the presidency go to a Democratic peace candidate. It is cold comfort to know that the sleaziest and most corrupt districts in the country lie in the South, and that they’ve been that way forever; Florida and Louisiana, it seems, can always be counted on to miscount the vote, and there’s even a verb among political insiders, “to plaquemine,” that honors (or dishonors) ever-corrupt Plaquemines Parish outside New Orleans. But there are plenty of Northern sinners, too, and Campbell does an evenhanded job of chronicling such things as the near-theft of the Wisconsin governorship in 1856—thwarted by a state Supreme Court that “displayed how an independent judiciary can play a vital constitutional role in overseeing contested elections”—and the curiosities of Ohio (and, for good measure, Ukraine) in 2004.
Valuable data for those seeking electoral reform in the age of hanging chads, gerrymandered districts and absent absentees.