Our young campaign volunteer learns how they steal, purchase, or pour votes in Arkansas
The Syerovs were at home, redecorating the basement. Pavel Sr. had found a great curio box at the hobby store – one of those picture-sized frames with a bunch of cubbyholes for knickknacks – and he and Pavel Jr. were going through a box (Mrs. Syerov called it “the junk box”) full of souvenir shot glasses, golf balls, and other decorations of a similar size, to
isplay on the wall at the foot of the staircase.
As they were deep in the semi-serious study of what combination of thingamajigs would make the most fun wall hanging, Pavel’s younger brothers, Nicolo and Peter (known as Nico and Paco) walked in and surveyed the scene.
“It’s been done, son,” said their dad with a chuckle. “In the 60s and 70s, I’ll bet every finished basement in the country had a little display of mini liquor bottles. Let’s just say it’s a dated idea, unless you’re going for retro on purpose, Nico!”
“Yeah, but in the 60s, I’ll bet you couldn’t buy votes with them!” In response to the others’ quizzical look, Nico started reading from an article he’d just printed off the computer and brought with him into the room. “Some Democrat state rep from Arkansas was just forced to resign because he’d been buying votes with half bottles of vodka. It just popped up on my feed. Check it out!”
The family was all ears as young Nico started reading. “Hudson Hallum resigns over vote fraud. ‘I made awful choices,’ he said. Hah! That’s for sure!”
Pavel, the oldest boy and the family expert on vote fraud, shook his head. “This is crazy. I’ve heard of ‘smokes for votes’ in Wisconsin, so I guess I know it happens, but it’s so hard to fathom. The thought of people selling their votes, risking jail time, for a lousy bottle of booze…”
“That’s half-bottle, Pavel!” his brother corrected him. “The paper says this guy just gave them half-bottles of booze. And one lucky family got a family dinner for twenty bucks!”
“Talk about selling out cheap…” Paco, the youngest brother, just shook his head and left the room, looking for his DS. He was in no mood to hear more about crooked grown-ups in Arkansas.
After hearing the whole article, the family – which had made the study of vote fraud something of a family project since Pavel started learning about the craft at the local party headquarters a couple summers before – sat down to discuss it all.
Their dad pulled out a biography from the bookcase – Richard Brookhiser’s “James Madison” – and thumbed through it for a moment. “There’s actually a bit of a pedigree to this kind of thing, you know. James Madison lost his first election, to Charles Porter, when Madison refused to buy drinks at the town meeting, as Virginia candidates for the House of Burgesses were always expected to do at election time. He learned his lesson, and bought drinks along with everyone else in subsequent elections.”
“Yeah, Dad, but that’s not the same thing,” argued Nico. “The Virginians basically had a public party where they were all expected to chip in, and Madison refused the first time. But that’s more like all the candidates being expected to share the cost of renting a hall today, and then one of the candidates refusing to chip in. This is completely different. This bozo from Arkansas was paying people in a direct quid pro quo – ‘gimme your absentee ballot, and I’ll give you a half bottle of hooch.’ That feels a lot more crooked to me than a town meeting where all the candidates are expected to provide an equal keg for the audience.”
Pavel said he had a point; it was a different matter entirely. “I guess somebody’d better head on down to headquarters, huh?” As his brother and dad nodded, he sighed and headed off to see Pockets and the gang, leaving them to finish the mounting and organizing of the new knickknack shelf without him.
Shortly afterward, Pavel arrived at 51st ward party headquarters, bag of snacks in hand, just as the last of the ladies was leaving after an evening of work at the collating table. “Evening, Mrs. Jones! Have a good walk home!”
He bounded into headquarters and looked for Pockets, the old deputy committeeman. “Hey, Ohh! Hey, Ohh… Anybody home?”
Came the voice from the back: “Back here, Paully! Be there in a minute!” The old man was just turning off the folding machine after an evening of working on a mailing; he appeared with a diet soda for Pavel and a longneck for himself and headed for his desk in the corner. “Have a seat son. Nothing to do tonight; we just finished a mailing. But siddown, and have a talk!”
“Sorry I missed it, Pockets,” answered the boy. “Had a lot of homework tonight; just got out. “ He opened up the bag of honey wheat pretzel braids he’d brought with him, and set the open bag in the snack bowl. Pockets dove right in.
“Ya missed a weird day in politics, with all yer homework, Paully” chuckled Pockets with his mouth full, before washing the pretzels down with a swig of his beer. “Da party’s lost another incumbent dis week, son. “
“Anybody you knew, Pockets?” answered Pavel. “My condolences!”
“Nah, Paully, nobody we knew. And he’s not dead, either, though he may as well be.” Pockets took another drink and continued. “Hudson Hallum’s the name. He’s a state rep from Arkansas. Won a special election last year. Brought to trial on a conspiracy, forced ta leave office after just a year. Caught red handed. Idiot.”
“Doing what, Pockets?” asked the lad, surprised that Pockets had fortunately brought up the very subject himself, without needing any prompting.
“Vote fraud, ya know. What we do. But boy, was he sloppy!” Pockets munched a pretzel, then continued. "Dis guy – a kid, just 28 or 29 at the time – managed to win a state rep race in Arkansas, just last year. Special election. Now, they’re all kinda blamin’ each other, but da way it looks like went down is like dis: One a da local aldermen, a fella by the name a Phillip Carter, told him the way to win was to buy drinks and food for the residents of his neighborhood, and have ‘em fill in their absentee ballots in his presence so he’d be sure they were votin’ fer him. At least four of ‘em – da candidate, dis alderman, da candidate’s dad, and some kinda local judge – all worked together on da project.”
“Wow. We don’t do that here, do we, Pockets?”
“Course not. We try ta keep da candidates insulated from dat sorta thing here in Chicago. Precinct captains might do it, patronage workers, but not da aldermen and reps and senators themselves. It’s just askin’ fer trouble, ya know, Paully?” Pockets shook his head and shoveled in a few more pretzels before continuing.
“So here’s da thing. These guys apparently had a standard program. Dey order da absentee ballots for a set of people in da neighborhood. Whole buncha people, alla da people who had done dis before for alderman Carter. And then they go door-to-door to deliver da ballots in person, along with a half-bottle of vodka. Then they take the ballots back and mail them in themselves.”
Pavel hadn’t seen that much detail in the article he had read at home, so this was new to him. “Wait a minute, Pockets… you mean the candidate brings in a ballot, makes the person vote for him and then rewards him with a whiskey bottle like a pet owner rewarding a dog with a cookie, and then leaves with the ballot in his pocket? Wow.”
“Nah, Paully, not whiskey. Vodka. They mentioned whiskey, but then they said they bought a hundred half-bottles a vodka, so I tink it was vodka.” Pockets nodded to himself as much as to Pavel, as if he was proud of having gotten the detail right, in case it was important. He rewarded himself with a good long gulp, finishing off his longneck. So he motioned to the lad for another. “Another grenade, Paully?”
“Sure, Pockets!” said Pavel, springing up to head back to the refrigerator. “Boy, that’s a lot of laws to break.”
“Yeah Paully, dat’s for sure.” Pockets munched another pretzel while waiting for Pavel to return with a beer for him. “Nobody but a voter registrar should touch da ballots… nobody but da voter himself should handle da ballot after it’s been voted; each voter shoulda mailed da ballot himself… da candidate himself shouldn’t a been involved… Or his pop, either! Still can’t believe da dopey candidate and his own dad were so stupid."
Pavel cracked open his diet soda while Pockets started up on his new longneck, and Pavel asked one more question. “What about this thing I read about ripping up ballots?”
“Yeah, dat too, Paully,” chuckled Pockets. “Ya gotta laugh or cry, my boy, gotta laugh or cry. They ripped up da ballots of da people who voted for the other guy! With witnesses!”
“So, people saw them destroying ballots too? Wow.” Pavel just shook his head. “So I guess we’ve lost this seat for awhile, huh?”
“Nah, probably not,” answered the old pol. “The Republicans didn’t even file a candidate, and there’s a Green Party bozo on da ballot, so da Green party guy’ll likely win, and he’ll caucus with the Democrats anyway, so we’ll be fine, I think.”
Pavel strained to remember something he’d read about in the article back at home. “Wait, this was last year, right? And the fact he was suspected of vote fraud has been known for awhile, right?”
“Yeah, Paully. Da attacks followed da special election in 2011, so everybody’s suspected him of vote fraud for awhile, and da case was windin’ through the courts.”
“So… if everybody knew the incumbent was corrupt, and there was a chance he’d go to jail, why didn’t the Republicans run a candidate this year? Even if they knew they’d have no chance if the Democrat stayed on the ballot, they HAD to know they’d have a good chance if the Democrat happened to get tossed off! It’s worth the gamble, right?”
“Well, Paully, there’s a reason we call the Republicans the Stupid Party, ya know. “ Pockets laughed a real guffaw at that, and raised his glass in a toast. Pavel had to join the toast, and did his best to fake the same enthusiasm for the self-destructive nature of the GOP.
“Nah, what’s really buggin’ me is da way da news got out,” continued Pockets. “See, dey kept makin’ references ta how dis is normal… how dis is how ya always get people elected in dis area. Da press has lotsa stories with quotes from Phillip Carter on how dat’s how dey always do it.” He was getting frustrated now, so he was shoveling pretzels in his mouth with great fury, spraying crumbs as he muttered in his anger. Pavel moved his chair back a few inches.
“Ya gotta remember, Paully… we’ve worked so hard ta make sure da world thinks that vote fraud is just a local Chicago thing. We do it here, nobody else does.” Pockets took a final swig, finishing another longneck, and went on. “We try so hard to make it look like vote fraud is rare. We plant it in da media, we admit it in interviews. We say ‘well, yeah, there’s a little of that old cemetery vote in Chicago, of course, but udder than that, there’s really no vote fraud anywhere else. Da Republicans are just making up charges because they’re racist.’ See, the line works, because ya give up a little truth, so folks figure it must be honest. And the press accepts the position that nobody really steals votes outside of Chicago.”
Pavel nodded in understanding. “But this one alderman then, he’s really the problem with the Arkansas story. He’s basically been quoted saying they do this all the time in his district. So now the cat’s out of the bag.”
“Yup, Paully, da cat’s out of the bag. Everybody knows now that there’s this corrupt district in Arkansas where lotsa people, certainly at least hundreds, trade their votes for vodka and cheap chicken dinners. This alderman guy Carter made it clear these families have been expecting liquor and chicken for their votes for a long time. Enough of ‘em dat it took four different people to handle all dese folks.”
“Chicken dinners, Pockets?”
“Oh yeah, didn’t I mention dat?” Pockets went back for another longneck and said “yeah, they talked about spendin’ twenty bucks on dinners for people too. Oh, it’s embarrassin’, I’ll tell ya. Mighty embarrassin’.”
Pavel nodded his assent, and expanded. “So this is a state rep district in shame, and several elected officials in shame… and it’s shown the whole country that there’s corruption in our party, and that in at least one place, it’s apparently gone on for years. Right when states like Wisconsin and Indiana and Ohio and Georgia have voter ID bills tied up in court because our side is screaming that it’s a made-up issue, we have a story on the front page that has us dead-to-rights as being a corrupt operation. Our voters, our campaigns, our elected officials… wow. This IS embarrassing, all right, the more I think about it. What can we do?”
Pockets just shook his head. “Hope it blows over, I guess, Paully. Like it usually does.” Pockets took a long drink and raised his beer in another toast, which Pavel joined with his can of diet. “To da short memories of voters and da continued devoted service of da mass media. Widdout dem, Paully, we’d have been doomed years ago!”
Pavel nodded and shrugged, as he made sure to commit the discussion to memory, so he can retell the tale of the Arkansas alcoholics once more, to his family back at home.
Sure enough, thought the boy, if the average American “independent” had any appreciation for how much vote fraud the Democrats perpetrate, all over the country, they’d never vote for such villains again. But as Pockets said, so much of the public has self-blinded themselves that they just won’t let themselves believe it’s happening.
As Pavel said his goodbyes and headed home, all he could think was how important it would be to increase awareness in the public at large… and how, until that happened, so many districts would be out of reach for the GOP, all because of the margin of fraud.
And to think it’s the Democrats, of all people, who always couch every political argument as being a matter of “fairness.” Disgusting.
Copyright 2012 John F. Di Leo
John F. Di Leo is a Chicago-based Customs broker and freight forwarder. A former Republican county chairman of the Milwaukee County GOP, he has now been a recovering politician for over fifteen years.
Little Pavel and his relatives, friends, and mentors are naturally fictional characters, and any resemblance to any real persons, living or dead, is strictly coincidental… but the issues of rampant vote fraud that they discuss are, sadly, all too real.
Permission is hereby granted to forward freely, provided it is uncut, and the byline and IR URL are included. Follow me on LinkedIn and Facebook, and on Twitter at @johnfdileo.