Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Confession of Voter Fraud

We want to confess. After several decades on the run and keeping our mouth shut, this silly and distracting Acorn voter registration nonsense has shamed us into coming clean at long last.

We are ready to admit our guilt and take our punishment. We once aided and abetted the casting of a real vote by a real person who never was allowed by law to vote.

It all happened "a long time ago in a galaxy Midwestern state far, far away...." We were still in our teens, and under the prevailing law of that time far too young to vote. But not too young to drive a car or volunteer as a campaign grunt -- which we had done once before in the year John Kennedy was elected president. That's how they got our name.

One dismal winter day a year or so later, the call came in from Democratic Party state headquarters. It was an emergency. The incumbent state senator in a lightly-populated rural county somewhere west of where we lived, in the middle of the state, had died. Two candidates, one from each party, were running in a special election to fill his seat. Voting was scheduled to take place the very next day and the Democratic candidate needed help driving people to the polls. Could we arrange among our high school friends for a few drivers with cars?

We could and we did. What we didn't realize at the time, being young and stupid, was why he needed help. A massive blizzard was expected the very next day. Funny, how adults pay attention to stuff like that and callow young people do not.

We encountered the blizzard the next morning when we were about half way along the hundred-mile drive to the rural county where the special election was being held. The pig-gray sky darkened quickly and huge sheets of wet snow with flakes the size of dinner plates began to fall. Visibility dropped to near zero. Highway traffic slowed to a crawl.

Undaunted, our modest caravan of four or five jalopies stuck together, bumper to bumper, and arrived at the county seat only four hours late. There, we found the Democratic candidate holed up, alone and shivering, in a small, cramped office that did double duty as a law office and an insurance agency.

There were no lights or heat. The power had gone out. On the candidate's desk were propped two cheap triangular cardboard signs. "A lawyer's time is his stock in trade," read one of them, the wisdom improbably attributed to Abraham Lincoln. "You're in good hands with Allstate," pronounced the other -- another deception, as we were to personally learn a lifetime later in Florida after experiencing our first hurricane.

In the cold, cramped, gloomy surroundings the candidate handed out handwritten lists of names and addresses of voters he thought would be on his side.

"There's about sixty names to a sheet," he said. "In this weather, that ought to be enough to put me over the top."

Many of the addresses were unusable by us -- "R.R. 2" or "half a mile past the Harman farm." So, another hour was spent blowing warmth into our fists to keep our fingers nimble while we grilled the candidate for better directions. By the time we were ready to fire up the engines and start hauling voters to the poll -- there was only one poll, inside the courthouse that stood sentry over the town square -- two feet of thick, wet snow blanketed the landscape, and more was falling.

The going was very slow. All in all, we managed to find only three or four dozen voters from the lists. Less than half of them had the bad sense to venture out with us. A majority, gazing out at the weather through frosted-glass storm doors, simply lied and claimed they had already voted. We cheerfully accepted their lies and skittled back as fast as we could to the warmth of our idling autos.

There was one very elderly woman, however, who was thrilled to have a ride. She was not an inch above five feet tall, heavy-set, and already bundled in a winter coat, scarf, and woolen gloves when we arrived at her home just outside the town limits. She brushed aside an arm as we tried to safely steer her along the icy steps to our waiting '56 Chrysler -- the one with the gearshift on the dash, aimed like a knife at the chest of everyone in the front seat. We took care to bundle her into the back seat.

"I bink votink in Amedica fur sexty yass," she said defiantly. "No leetle snow lak this gonna kip me avay from da polls."

The tank-heavy Chrysler crawled and slipped and slithered through snow-filled streets as we made our way to courthouse. Again, the old woman refused to lean on an arm as we mounted the courthouse steps.

Inside, a large, stoic woman with a mound of white hair piled on her head sat behind a flimsy card table. Her chin and mouth was hunched inside a double-thick turtleneck sweater. On the table was a sheaf of papers stapled together.

"Mrs. ____!" the poll worker greeted the old woman we had brought in. She quickly rifled through the voter registration papers in front of her. "I don't see your name here," she said.

"I bink votink in Amedica fur --"

"I know, I know, Mrs. ____." the poll worker interrupted. She handed the short ballot to our would-be voter. "Here you go, dear."

While the old woman voted, we asked the poll worker if she was sure the old woman's name was not on the registration papers.

She waved a hand at us. "Oh, don't worry none about that. Lots a' folks around here are from the old country. They don't much like to register their names. Makes 'em feel like the government's spying on 'em. We don't worry about it, anyway. We know who they are. They're neighbors."

Driving our charge back to her house through the worsening storm, we had to ask. Had she ever registered to vote?

"Vy vut I do dat?" she hurrumphed. "Day know me here. Anyvays, I dunt vant to be a citizen, needer. I just vant to vote."

It didn't take long for the election results to be tabulated. The Democratic candidate, the lawyer -slash- insurance salesman, lost in a landslide. Altogether, less than 200 votes had been cast and he got about 50.

"It wasn't a landslide," another campaign worker joked. "More like an avalanche."

"Should have been better," we replied. "That lawyer's list wasn't any good."

On the way home, the old woman's words kept echoing in our mind. "Yah, I bink votink in Amedica fur sexty yass. Sexty yass! Always fur da Republican, y'know. Thass me. Republican."

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