YES! Weekly’s ten best shady elections
John F. Kennedy vs. Richard Nixon, US presidency, 1960
Did JFK steal the 1960 presidential election from Tricky Dick? Nixon’s friend, New York Herald Tribune journalist Earl Mazo certainly thought so, alleging widespread vote fraud in Illinois and Texas. Specifically, he claimed to have found instances of dead people and people who had moved away voting in Chicago’s Ward 4, Precinct 31. Given Democratic Mayor Richard Daley’s legendary ability to deliver the vote and Kennedy’s 113,000-vote margin of victory, the allegations gained widespread credibility. Slate.com’s David Greenberg doesn’t buy it, pointing out that recounts in several states only managed to overturn the outcome in Hawaii, shifting a paltry three electoral votes into Nixon’s column.
Lyndon B. Johnson vs. Coke Stevenson, US Senate, 1948
“Landslide Lyndon” won his 1948 campaign for the US Senate by 87 votes. A Johnson campaign worker told PBS that it appeared to him that 200 or so names were added to a precinct report from the south Texas town of Alice. All but two of the votes favored Johnson. Did the future president know the election was being stolen on his behalf? Ronnie Dugger, founding editor of The Texas Observer, visited Johnson at the White House, and related this enigmatic encounter: “He came in with this photograph of these five guys in front of this old car with Box 13 balanced on the hood of it. I looked at him and grinned and he grinned back, but he wouldn’t explain it to me. I asked him, well, who were these guys and why did they have Box 13 on the hood of this car? What did it mean? And he just – nothing. He wouldn’t say. As we’d say in Texas, he wouldn’t say nothin’.”
George W. Bush vs. Al Gore, US presidency, 2000
Historians will be debating the hypotheticals of how the 21st century might have turned out differently under a President Gore, well, probably until the 22nd century. In any case, Gore won the popular vote and virtually every television news organization had called the election in his favor until the hinge state of Florida flipped into the Bush column at the last minute. Punch-card ballots with partially detached “chads” and confusing butterfly ballots that fooled some Jewish Palm Beach voters into casting their ballot for Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan added to suspicions. A recount commenced, but the Supreme Court halted it. A media consortium study lead by The Washington Post found if all the ballots were counted Gore would have won Florida, and the presidency, by 60 to 171 votes.
George W. Bush vs. John Kerry, US presidency, 2004
A much ballyhooed investigative report by Robert Kennedy Jr. published in Rolling Stone last year concludes that Bush won a second term “not by the uncontested will of the people but under a cloud of dirty tricks.” Some of us just believe that a majority of Americans were conned into pulling the lever for the “Duh” that fateful year. An internet poster identified as “feller” had this to say about the investigation: “The Kennedys were more interesting and powerful when they stole elections ‘fair and square,’ like in Illinois in 1960 with the help of [mob figures] Tony Accardo, Sam Giancana and other colorful political ‘consultants.'”
Texas redistricting gerrymander, US House of Representatives, 2003
This redistricting caper had Democratic members of the Texas legislature fleeing to Oklahoma and New Mexico to deny the Republican majority a quorum to redraw congressional district lines. The Republicans were the new party in power in the Lone Star State and both they and US Rep. Tom Delay saw an opportunity to create a permanent Republican majority in both Texas and the United States. It seems to have worked, at least temporarily, with Republicans gaining six new House seats in 2004. Since then, Tom “The Hammer” Delay has been indicted and the Supreme Court ruled that the redistricting plan violated the Voting Rights Act by diluting Hispanic voting strength, signaling a possible change in the political winds.
Rutherford B. Hayes vs. Samuel Tilden, US presidency, 1876
Gore Vidal’s masterful novel 1876 builds its narrative from this American centennial orgy of shame. As detailed by ohiohistorycentral.org, Republican candidate Rutherford B. Hayes lost the popular vote by a quarter million ballots, but the outcome in four states -‘ Louisiana, Oregon, South Carolina and (yup) Florida – left the electoral vote in doubt. If Hayes carried all four states he would win the presidency by one electoral vote. To get their guy in the White House, Republican leaders agreed to withdraw federal troops from the South in exchange for Southern Democrats’ agreement to kick their candidate to the curb. Reconstruction fell apart and white power “redeemers” in the Democratic Party would ensure that blacks remained largely politically disenfranchised in Dixie until the 1960s.
Robert Mugabe vs. Morgan Tsvangirai, Zimbabwean presidency, 2002
The outcome of any election won by Robert Mugabe, leader of Zimbabwe since 1980, could be viewed with suspicion given the ruthless attacks launched against his political opposition. The International Crisis Group reported in August 2002 that Mugabe’s government was “carrying out a policy of selective starvation against its political enemies. The denial of food to opposition strongholds has replaced overt violence as the government’s principal tool of repression in Zimbabwe. Demolishing homes in areas that favored the opposition Movement for Democratic Change was another tool reportedly in the president’s kit. After the election, which took place in March 2002, Wikipedia reports that “when election observers from South Africa claimed at a press conference that they had found no evidence of vote rigging, the assembled press burst out with laughter.”
Saddam Hussein (no opposition), Iraqi presidency, 2002
With Hussein’s legitimacy under assault on the eve of a US invasion, the Iraqi president decided to hold an election to show the world just how popular he was. With no challengers stepping forward, Hussein amazingly won the contest by an 11 million-to-zero margin, according to a CBS News dispatch at the time. Sadly for the Baathist dictator with a taste for dapper suits and open-necked shirts, instead of whiling the hours away in the presidential palace he now spends his days in court defending himself against charges of genocide.
Carlos Salinas vs. Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, Mexican presidency, 1988
The leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution lost its chance to lead Mexico in 1988. Arguably, free trader Carlos Salinas’ ensuing rule ensured that Mexico would sign the North American Free Trade Act roughly five years later. Maybe that’s why the PRD’s candidate in 2006 thinks the left was robbed again. As Chuck Collins wrote for Alternet.com in July, “[AndrÃ©s Manuel] LÃ³pez Obrador was a leading organizer in the presidential campaign of leftist candidate Cuauhtemoc Cardenas. Early on election night, Mexico’s own electoral system showed Cardenas with a substantial lead over PRI candidate Carlos Salinas. Then there was a mysterious computer crash, and the country woke up the next morning to an announcement that Salinas was the victor.”
Viktor Yushchenko vs. Viktor Yanukovych, Ukrainian presidency, 2004
Americans might have difficulty distinguishing Viktor from Viktor, but for many Ukrainians this election was a referendum on whether the Ukraine would emerge from Russia’s shadow and build stronger ties with the West. Following the pro-Russian Yanukovych’s initial victory, which was clouded by allegations of fraud, protesters took to the streets in an “orange revolution” and opposition candidate Yushchenko developed a disfiguring illness that he claimed was caused by poisoning during a dinner with the heads of the Ukrainian security service. In a subsequent rematch, the reformer -‘ and the streets -‘ prevailed.