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A Jersey Lesson in Voter Fraud (reprinted with permission)
Ed. Note: The late Mr. Fleming, who died in 2017 at the age of 90, was a former president of the Society of American Historians. He and his wife, Alice Mulcahy Fleming, between them have written and published more books than most people have read. The column was clipped from a newspaper (unknown) several years ago and I came across it while cleaning my office in preparation for the monthly meeting of our local Shakespeare Club. Permission to reprint was granted by Mrs. Fleming. (Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose)
Some youthful memories were stirred by the news this week that the president plans to use his State of the Union speech next Tuesday to urge Congress to make voter registration and ballot-casting easier. Like Mr. Obama, I come from a city with a colorful history of political corruption and vote fraud.
The president's town is Chicago, mine is Jersey City. Both were solidly Democratic in the 1930s and '40s, and their mayors were close friends. At one point in the early '30s, Jersey City's Frank Hague called Chicago's Ed Kelly to say he needed $2 million as soon as possible to survive a coming election. According to my father – one of Boss Hague's right-hand men – a dapper fellow who had taken an overnight train arrived at Jersey City's City Hall the next morning, suitcase in hand, cash inside.
Those were the days when it was glorious to be a Democrat. As a historian, I give talks from time to time. In a recent one, called “Us Against Them,” I said it was we Irish and our Italian, Polish and other ethnic allies against “the dirty rotten stinking WASP Republicans of New Jersey.” By thus demeaning the opposition, we had clear consciences as we rolled up killer majorities using tactics that had little to do with the election laws.
My grandmother Mary Dolan died in 1940. But she voted Democratic for the next 10 years. An election bureau official came to our door one time and asked if Mrs. Dolan was still living in our house. “She's upstairs taking a nap,” I replied. Satisfied, he left.
Thousands of other ghosts cast similar ballots every Election Day in Jersey City. Another technique was the use of “floaters,” tough Irishmen imported from New York who voted five, six and even 10 times at various polling places.
Equally effective was cash-per-vote. On more than one Election Day, my father called the ward's chief bookmaker to tell him: “I need 10 grand by one o'clock.” He always got it, and his ward had a formidable Democratic majority when the polls closed.
Other times, as the clock ticked into the wee hours, word would often arrive in the polling places that the dirty rotten stinking WASP Republicans had built up a commanding lead in South Jersey, where “Nucky” Johnson (currently immortalized on TV in HBO's “Boardwalk Empire”) had a small Republican machine in Atlantic City.
By dawn, tens of thousands of hitherto unknown Jersey City ballots would be counted and another Democratic governor or senator would be in office, and the Democratic presidential candidate would benefit as well. Things in Chicago were no different, Boss Hague would remark after returning from one of his frequent visits.
I have to laugh when I hear current-day Democrats not only lobbying against voter-identification laws, but campaigning to make voting even easier than it already is. More laughable is the idea of dressing up the matter as a civil-rights issue.
My youthful outlook on life – that anything goes against the rotten stinking WASP Protestant Republicans – evaporated while I served in the U.S. Navy in World War II. In that conflict, millions of people like me acquired a new understanding of what it meant to be an American.
Later I became a historian of this nation's early years – and I can assure President Obama that no founding father would tolerate the idea of unidentified voters. These men understood the possibility and the reality of political corruption. They knew it might erupt at any time within a city or state.
The president's party – which is still my party – has inspired countless Americans by looking out for the less fortunate. No doubt that instinct motivated Mr. Obama in his early years as a community organizer in Chicago. Such caring can still be a force, but that force, and the Democratic Party, will be constantly soiled and corrupted if the right and the privilege to vote becomes an easily manipulated joke.