After the 1960 election, there was a lot of talk about how the Chicago machine stole the Illinois vote for John Kennedy against Richard Nixon.
The talk grew into myth and hardened into something everyone “knows.” It’s often heard about how the Kennedys stole the presidency. What no one ever does is the math. It goes like this: Subtract Illinois from Kennedy’s electoral votes and he still won.
That was pretty much what happened to the talk at the time. All the Republican leaders kept running up against the math and gave up the effort – but still planted the fakelore about how Nixon coulda been president if, if, if.
As it happened, there was a little sidelight unfolding here in Nevada. There were some Republican leaders who thought that if the party could turn around the Illinois vote, they could do the same here in Nevada. A northern GOP leader named Les Gray, and a southern GOP leader named Alvin Wartman had difficulty believing JFK had won Nevada and claimed this state, too, had been stolen. Illinois and Nevada together would have turned the electoral vote to Nixon.
In fact, Wartman – who was then the Clark County Republican chair – went to court and got an order for a recount of the county.
It quickly produced another hundred votes for both Kennedy and U.S. Rep. Walter Baring in his re-election. The change was the result of a clerical error in transferring vote totals from a voting machine to log sheets.
I never had any doubt that if there was anything substantive to the stories of stolen elections, the Republicans would have moved heaven and earth to prove them, particularly since at the time, every U.S. attorney and the entire Department of Justice was inhabited by Republicans. Since they did so little, I assume it was because they found so little evidence.
The Nevada Republican leaders had been motivated in part by lopsided votes for Kennedy in some black precincts. That’s not unusual, anymore, but at the time it was new. The African American vote in the 1950s had been very much up for grabs.
The clerical error wasn’t much of a surprise. Changes as a result of recounts are nearly always something like that – innocent, easily explainable mistakes. And more often than not, recounts add to the original winner’s total, not to the loser’s total.
Election fraud is nearly always a myth, yet it drives paranoia fiercely. Nothing showed that more than this year’s election, in which Donald Trump spent the general election talking about how the Democrats would “rig” the election against him.
When that failed to happen, the paranoia moved to the other side of the aisle and Democrats started ponying up money for recounts which showed few problems.
Democrats, remember, are the people who, whenever the Republicans were trying to require voters to present identification at the polls, have (entirely accurately) pointed out that voter fraud is freakishly rare.
When Democrats are on the losing end, they become just as loony on the topic as Republicans. It’s a lot easier to believe the worst than the pedestrian facts.
To be sure, this election will always have a smell about it. An official we normally think of as a moral leader is going to accept the presidency after the public voted against him. It’s illuminating about the political savvy of today’s political journalists that they refer to Trump as the “president-elect” instead of “president-designate,” though he has not been elected to the office and instead is being appointed to it, making the second term correct. At the constitutional convention in 1878, when the delegates created presidential electors, the motion put to the delegates was, “Shall the national executive be APPOINTED by electors?”
Most of whatever tiny amount of voter fraud happens in the 21st century is in the counting end, not the voting end, so naturally the Republicans focus on the voting end where Democratic-leaning senior citizens, Latinos, African Americans and the young can most easily be prevented from voting.
Dennis Myers is an award-winning journalist who has reported on Nevada’s capital, government and politics for several decades. He has also served as Nevada’s chief deputy secretary of state.