- - Tuesday, November 1, 2016


Donald Trump has made election fraud a major issue in his campaign, with Democrats (mostly) arguing that he has been resorting to disreputable demagogy and many conservatives insisting he was right to draw attention to a perennial political problem.

Efforts to rig elections, in truth, are about as American as apple pie, even though the fraudsters have not always been able to steal or suppress enough votes to change the outcome. National Review’s John Fund and the Heritage Foundation’s Hans von Spakovsky, for instance, have chronicled a remarkable number of proven cases of past and present crookery, reflected in Al Franken’s razor-thin victory for the U.S. Senate in Minnesota in 2008 (winning by 312 votes), which made Obamacare a reality, and the Kennedy-Nixon presidential election in 1960, where massive fraud in Cook County helped JFK capture the presidency. Whether the vote fixing was decisive is still being debated.

Mr. Trump himself came up with a plausible reason for his call for intense poll-watching by his supporters this year when he cited a 2014 Washington Post article by reputable researchers claiming that 6 percent of noncitizens were likely to have voted in 2008 and over 2 percent in 2010.

Looking back on U.S. elections in the 19th century, the Brookings Institution observed, “Indifference, fraud, corruption and violence have marked the operation of our electoral system.”

Both parties have engaged in corrupting elections, but the Democrats seem to have the edge in such activities. Larry Sabato and Glenn Simpson in their book, “Dirty Little Secrets,” note that the “pool of people who appear to be available and more vulnerable to an invitation to participate in vote fraud [because of their poor economic circumstances] tend to lean Democratic.” Paul Harrison, director of the Center for American Politics at the University of Maryland in 2004, according to Mr. Fund, appears to agree, claiming that most incidents of wide-scale fraud “reportedly occur in inner cities.”

Mayor Frank Hague, whose political machine controlled Jersey City, N.J., from 1917 to 1947 was a legendary vote manipulator, controlling the state through bribery, roughing up foes and the destruction and alteration of ballots. But nowhere, Mr. Fund argues, “did voter fraud have a more notorious record than in Tammany-era New York. Practical Tammany pols preferred to deal with ‘strikers’ — wholesale operatives who would guarantee thick bundles of votes, for a price.” The immigrants flooding into New York were easily manipulated, with Tammany Hall setting up “a ‘naturalization mill,’ instantly certifying folks right off the boat as citizens — and Tammany voters.” In 1996, Mr. Fund reminds folks, “the Clinton administration similarly sped up the naturalization of up to one million new citizens so that they could vote in time for that year’s election.”

Harpo Marx, of Marx Brothers fame, who was a friend of my father, Morrie Ryskind, and starred in many of his plays and pictures, spells out Tammany’s power and allure in his memoir, “Harpo Speaks,” a copy of which he inscribed to my parents. He relates how Tammany made Election Day the most memorable time of the year for immigrants, with, among other things, festivities, free beer and cigars. The great holiday lasted a full 30 hours, capped by a magnificent bonfire lit by the neighborhood kids who had begged, borrowed or stolen fuel for the grand occasion.

On election eve, the Tammany forces “marched up and down the avenues by torchlight, with bugles blaring and drums booming,” writes Harpo. About noon on Election Day, the outfit provided a hansom cab that would pull up to his family’s house and take his dad and granddad, puffing on those free Tammany cigars, to the polls. They were dressed in their best suits, normally reserved for weddings, bar mitzvahs and funerals. About a half-hour after they cast their votes and returned home, the cab would reappear and they “would go off to vote again. If it was a tough year, with a Reform movement threatening the city, they’d be taken to vote a third time.”

No one complained that “Grandpa happened not to be a United States citizen, or that he couldn’t read or write English. He knew which side of the ballot to put his ‘X’ on.” Then came the night, when a whole generation of kids began pouring out of the brownstones, lighting bonfires and setting the East Side ablaze. It was a glorious sight. Taking a deep drag on the cigar he had received for voting illegally, his granddad told the young Harpo in German: “Ah, we are lucky to be in America. Ah, yes! This is true democracy.”

Vote rigging is still in vogue, with even Manhattan’s Democratic rep on the city’s Board of Elections, Alan Schulkin, saying recently that he believed “there is a lot of voter fraud” in the city, with nothing really being done about it.

The bottom line: Voters who see something fishy on Nov. 8 should say something.

Allan H. Ryskind, a former editor of Human Events, is author of “Hollywood Traitors” (Regnery History, 2015).

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