One man, 500 votes

November 23, 1993|By Daniel Bell

THE news that Republicans may have used "street money" or "walking-around money" to suppress the Democratic vote in New Jersey's election for governor reminded me of ingenious tactics used by Tammany Hall in my youth more than 60 years ago.

Paper ballots were used. The first voter in line received a ballot, walked into the booth, dropped an empty piece of paper in the box and walked out with an unmarked ballot.

He gave it to the precinct captain, who handed him $2 or $3 for the ballot.

The next man in line was given the first man's ballot, now marked for the Democratic candidate.

He received his own ballot, dropped the marked ballot in the box, went out to give the unspoiled ballot to the precinct captain and got his "street money." And so on.

By spoiling one ballot, the captain was able to control the flow of ballots in his precinct.

I was then a poll-watcher for the Socialist Party, at the tender age of 14. When the scam became apparent, the party, as well as the "goo-goos," or reformers, protested, and this led to the introduction of voting machines.

But to paraphrase Dr. Johnson, there is nothing like the loss of votes to concentrate the minds of professional pols.

And they beat the game. How? Observe.

A man would walk into the booth, pull the designated lever, walk out, shake hands with the precinct captain and get his "reward."

One man walked out, shook the hand of the captain and found himself slugged on the jaw. "Why did you hit me?" he cried out.

"Because you double-crossed us," he was told. "I did not," said the victim. "I voted right."

"No, you didn't," said the captain. "We put lampblack on the lever so that when you pulled it, a smudge would come off on your right hand. When I shook hands with you, I didn't see the smudge."

"Why didn't you ask me?" shouted the victim. "I'm left-handed!"

Daniel Bell is scholar in residence at the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

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