A North Carolina writer/realtor, who lives in the mountains with his wife of 42 years, takes a tongue-in-cheek look at the election process.
The coming election brings to mind not just hanging chads and other scandals, but also the time-honored practice of vote-buying in these southern mountains.
To save local embarrassment, I’ll not specify exactly which counties I’m speaking of, lest I be run out of town. Or shot.
For the record, votes are routinely bought in big cities up North too, with folding money and with promises of old jobs kept or new jobs offered.
You might recall that up in Chicago, Illinois they stole the election for a good Democrat named Kennedy back in 1960. John’s old daddy said he didn’t mind buying an election for his boy but he’d be damned if he was going to pay for a landslide.
Look it up, it’s all public record.
What’s not in the public record is that we’ve got some real poor people who don’t vote at all. Unless they’re paid for voting. And that’s the heart of the whole matter. Like they say, poor people have got poor ways.
These poor people have got an absolute capitalistic view of voting. To them it’s a simple windfall every time there’s an election. They expect to be hauled to the polls and paid for voting. The great majority of them would not stoop low enough to vote for the opposite party, but a few of them are actually dastardly enough to do this. Which means they sell their votes to the highest bidder. Usually late in the voting day when they are needed most and for the most money.
Both parties buy votes in every election. They raise the money through quiet cash donations which are never recorded. Each side knows who is buying for them and who is buying for the other side. Nobody really in the know is going to testify because both parties are equally guilty.
And it’s not always votes being bought. Sometimes it’s votes being changed by crooked officials, stuffing ballot boxes, things like that. I’ll tell you a true story, happened over in the next county years ago.
This was back in the days we voted on paper ballots, before we got the voting machines. It was a great primary, in the spring of the year, for each party to pick its own candidates who would then run against the opposition in the general election in the fall.
You had the Democrats (that’s us) fighting amongst themselves to select a county slate and the Republicans doing likewise. It had been on all day, the voting hot and heavy in each one of the county’s 18 precincts and that night the galvinized metal ballot boxes would be sealed and hand-carried across the mountains to the county courthouse, where the elections board would officially count out the results. The elections board appointed two judges at each precinct to oversee the voting and keep an eye on each other. This is a waste of time since in a primary they aren’t voting directly against each other.
We’ll call these two stalwarts John and Weaver, which are surely not their names. They have both gone to the big polling place in the sky now, but for years down here they fought the good fight against each other. Voted names off tombstones, voted crews of passing railroad trains, done it all.
So that night when the voting was done, there they sat. In the front seat of John’s pickup truck headed through the hills to town with the ballot box from Ox Creek on the seat between them.
They said ol’ John stopped the truck right there in the gap of the big mountain. He turned to Weaver and said, “There’s some people on our ballot I promised to assist and I know there’s some you want to help on your side.”
The other man nodded and without a word they went right to it. Using their flashlights, which they conveniently had in their overalls, they opened the box and proceeded to re-mark ballots for almost an hour, neatly erasing penciled Xs and changing votes to boost their preferred candidates.
When it was finished, they re-sealed the box and drove down into town just proud as punch. It was a rare example of what they call bipartisan co-operation. This is America, you know, and each man had served his party well.
Of course that fall in the general election they watched each other like hawks and bought votes to beat the band. One knows one’s enemy, sometimes intimately.
We had one pure-T clean election here over the years and it was real nice. True. It was a town vote, not a regular county election, and I don’t know whether it could have been done on a countywide basis.
But it was back in the early 1960s and the Republicans were running a full slate against the incumbent Democrats for mayor and town council.
They sent word that they didn’t have much money and did not want to go out and beg for money to buy votes with, so the Democrats agreed to an honest election and that was that.
That voting day was pathetic. Many who usually sell their votes are piss-poor and sorry to boot, so sorry the ones who buy their votes ordinarily would not spit on them, much less be seen in public with them. So that particular day all this riff-raff couldn’t believe their ears. Lots voted anyway, for free, and then just sat around on the steps hoping somebody would pay them. But they didn’t.
I did see one vote bought that day, purely by mistake. It was right funny. Ol’ Boney Meroney showed up that afternoon, drunk as a boiled owl and swaggering around with a big nickel-plated pistol showing in his waistband. He grabbed one and made him vote a straight Democrat ticket and then hollered “Pay that man 10 dollars.” When nobody would, Boney paid it himself and staggered down the sidewalk, cussing us with every breath for not having the guts or brains to run a decent election.
The loophole that makes the system work provides that a voter can request assistance from a polling place official of the voter’s same party, supposedly a courtesy to someone who cannot read or understand the ballot.
When a vote-seller makes the request, what he or she gets is a “marker,” a worker who marks the ballot or pulls the correct lever on the machine for the voter. The vote then secretly gets a token to be presented to the party “big man” out in the street for cash.
Vote-buying is as traditional in the mountains as eating ramps or speckled trout; all the hoorawing by federal prosecutors and belly-aching by the losers is not going to change a thing. The only crime is being outbought.
Last election in the county to the east of us, the Democrats raised a pile of money and rolled like a wheel, threw out Republicans who had been in office for years. Friend of mine who buys for the Democrats over at Walker Schoolhouse was approached by his Republican counterpart, who has bought votes for the GOP in that precinct since right after World War II.
The Republican’s voice was trembling he was so upset, my buddy said. “When you go home tonight, you better get down on your knees,” he said to the grinning Democrat, “and ask the Good Lord to forgive you for what you’ve done here today.” Getting outbought can make a man awful pious.
Oh yeah, let me explain the title of this exposé.
It was our last election, we had some visitors – the FBI was snooping around quietly, along with some nosy state investigators. The damn newspapers had been writing a lot about vote-buying and it was a good time to be prudent.
Terry Hatchett, our main money-man, is very sharp and very bold and he knew just how to handle it. He said we would not use markers inside the polling places or tokens to prove the correct vote was cast. That’s rich, ain’t it? Terry said we know most of our customers anyway and if they said they’d voted straight Democrat and wanted to be paid, just pay ‘em.
And that’s exactly how it worked, slick as a whistle. FBI agents swarming around and the Republicans too scared to buy, but we hauled and bought same as always. Only we bought votes on the honor system.
We won, naturally, because it’s the American way. We trusted people and they didn’t let us down. A man who’d sell you his vote won’t tell you a lie. You can write that down in your little book, or as my grandma used to say – put that in your little pipe and smoke it.