By SKIP TUCKER, Alabama Daily News contributor
The man from Chicago, in Alabama to oversee ballot security for the 1986 Graddick for Governor Campaign, looked up from the pages he was studying. He was sitting at a small desk in an enclave at Graddick’s Montgomery headquarters where I was holding a meeting. I was in Graddick’s press corps.
It was late October and the election for the Democratic nomination for governor was close. Around him, the campaign was rolling with the energy and pace only a winning campaign can provide a politics junkie.
In ‘82, the Democratic nomination for governor was tantamount to victory, and it was no secret among the knowing that voter fraud in Alabama was not just real but so rampant that people made livings at it.
The man from Chicago was studying official returns from Alabama gubernatorial races in 1978 and 1982. He gave a wry laugh that encompassed the room.
“If anyone in here knows George McMillan, you can tell him he was elected governor of Alabama in 1982 and George Wallace stole it from him,” he said. “I can tell you how they stole it, where they stole it and the time of day they stole it.”
I knew (and still know) George McMillan. I was his news secretary in that race, which Wallace won by about 19,000 votes of 1,000,647 cast.
The expert continued: “It’s a piece of cake to steal a hundred thousand votes in Alabama, but don’t feel too bad. In Chicago, it’s a piece of cake to steal a million.”
The ’82 election went to the wire, so close that the Associated Press declared McMillan the winner. But returns from late boxes were heavily Wallace, and turned the election.
The next day, McMillan told me that Wallace had stolen it. I didn’t believe it. I was saddened because I thought it was sour grapes. I didn’t think votes could be stolen. I was naïve.
Later I learned that the sheriff of a strong Wallace county had locked ballot boxes in his trunk and took them home “for safe keeping.” There were lots of dirty tricks played.
By 1986, machines largely replaced paper ballots and were claimed to be tamper-proof. But machines depend on humans and humans, particularly political humans, are not tamper proof.
The expert gave a class that day, and scales fell from my eyes like teardrops.
“Poll watchers for the Graddick campaign need to be the first people through the door,” he said. “Look official. Wear a suit, carry a briefcase, take a lunch. Let them know you’re there to stay.
“First thing you do once you’re through the door, check to make sure all machine are at zero, because that’s when a lot of votes are stolen.”
One Graddick watcher went into a precinct in the Wiregrass area where there were eight machines. Each already had 500 votes on it. He ran out to report it. By the time he returned, of course, they were at zero.
Also, Back in the Day, a precinct called in its totals to the beat official, who called it in to the county probate office. Cheating was easy as a transposition. Let’s say I got 200 votes in a precinct, and Todd Stacy got 100. How easy is to say into the phone, “Yes, well, Stacy got 200 and Tucker got 100.” The counter in the probate office could write it down wrong and switch it again.
So the expert said, “Watch for trends. If you see a beat where all precincts are going heavily one way, and suddenly one of them goes heavily the other way, well, the game is afoot.”
I actually caught that in a Florida campaign. When the precinct official was confronted, he did not fall down on his knees to confess. He said, “Thank God you caught that awful mistake.”
The Chicago votemaster said a main tipoff is that if all boxes are in from a certain area except for a few, and they stay out and out for no discernible reason, something is going on. As per the county sheriff.
Graddick won his close one in ’86, but had it taken from him in an entirely different matter (that’s another story).
I enjoy the dubious distinction to have worked for two men who were, for all intents and purposes, elected governor of Alabama and then had the thing stolen away.
But that was 40 years ago, and things are different. At least we hope.
The Secretary of State’s office says there are about 4.8 million registered voters in Alabama and promises that all is being done to make sure every vote is legitimately cast, and that anyone caught tampering would be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law and that legitimate reports of voter fraud would be vigorously investigated.
Except the Alabama Secretary of State has no prosecutorial power and no subpoena power. Valid reports of vote fraud mostly go to the district attorney in the county or to the Alabama Attorney General’s office.
While it is a fact that ballot machines now are better electronics, it is also a fact that no election is tamper proof. There have been 19 convictions in Alabama for voter fraud since Year 2000.
And this: In 2014, AL.com’s Mike Cason wrote: “three months before the June primary, four Alabama counties had more voters on their rolls than what the Census Bureau says is their voting age population.”
We are all told that voter fraud “is not widespread.” I hate to resort to logic, but that statement means two things: One is that admittedly there is voter fraud, indeed, and two, nobody knows how widespread it is. It needs noting, though, that, like shoplifting, voter fraud prosecution has to come after the fact.
Two cycles ago, right here in east Montgomery, a friend of mine went to cast his ballot. When he got to registration and told his name, he was told he had voted already. He showed his ID and guaranteed them that he had not voted. He was allowed to vote a challenge ballot.
As I to try to get a handle on how widespread it is, an indicator, perhaps, is how voter turnout dropped somewhere around 10 percent in Alabama, on average, when the ID law was passed. Does that number speak to the percentage of past Voter fraud?
Liberals say the ID law is election suppression. Conservatives say it is election protection.
Election officials agree that the highest percentage of vote fraud is in the absentee ballot industry. Political swine have been known to invade nursing homes and houses of the elderly to prey on the halt and the lame and the diminished. I would like to think that in today’s day and age this pathetic behavior would not be allowed by management, but you can never be too careful. If you have a loved one in a nursing home, it might be worth checking in with the facility around election time.
Oh, and as to Chicago, one political wag said his father switched parties.
“While he was in Alabama, he voted Republican at every election,” he said. “Then he moved to Chicago, where he died 20 years ago. He’s voted Democrat ever since.”
Skip Tucker was editor of the Daily Mountain Eagle in Jasper, then communications secretary for gubernatorial folks like George McMillan, Charlie Graddick and Jim Folsom. He ran Alabama Voters Against Lawsuit Abuse for in Montgomery for 15 years. He has published one novel, Pale Blue Light, a spy thriller set in The Civil War.