A fundamental element of our civic life has, oddly, become a partisan football. But challenges to the integrity of the electoral process aren’t a recent development.
In the 1980s, I secured a front-row seat on a stunningly corrupt municipal election, one that could take place just as easily today in many of America’s larger cities, maybe even in Kansas City.
But back then at least, all good citizens were against voter fraud.
For the better part of the past two years, however, regional media have been insisting that election fraud is a myth. They argue that if fraud is involved, politicians like Kris Kobach are the ones who have been perpetrating it.
Unfortunately, propaganda works. Despite the caravan of future Democrats making their way to the southern border for most of October, the media convinced enough Kansans that Kobach’s principle opposition to voter fraud and illegal immigration was delusional, and he lost his bid to be governor.
As for me, I don’t think even a Kris Kobach understands the depth of the problem. Electoral fraud only ends at the ballot box. It doesn’t begin there. Here is how I know.
Leaving grad school, I had no job offers. Women being much more employable in academia then and now, my wife had several offers. I asked her to choose a city large enough to employ me. So Kansas City here we came.
Needing a job, I took what I could get. In this case, my race and my street cred—I grew up in public housing in Newark—helped me land a gig at the Housing Authority of Kansas City. Within two years, I was director of management, with 100 people working under me. Two years later, I led a public revolt against the impressively corrupt Housing Authority board. To paraphrase my fellow Newarker, Cory Booker, this was my “Spartacus moment.” My moment turned out no better than Booker’s. Not only did I lose my job, but I also got myself blackballed.
No public entity would hire a troublemaker like me, and most private firms would not even talk to a guy whose best experience was managing a corrupt Housing Authority.
After 16 months on the dole, I took the only job I could get: associate director of the Newark Housing and Redevelopment Authority. My new employers told me theirs was a “reform” administration. This meant that cash would no longer be passed in paper bags, at least not openly.
The chief of staff ran the show for our empty suit of a boss. Born in the Philippines, she claimed Imelda Marcos as her role model and governed as Imelda might have. To keep the books, she hired Third Worlders almost exclusively. People with green cards are in no position to blow whistles.
Newark was in the midst of an election season. A City Council honcho was challenging the incumbent for the mayor’s job. The two men shared a credential as common in Newark as church membership is in Kansas. Both were under federal indictment.
This was not the incumbent’s first legal rodeo. Apparently, the feds had previously indicted him for stashing campaign funds in a Swiss bank. I was told Jimmy Carter quashed the indictment.
Despite his peccadilloes, “we” were supporting the in-cumbent. “We” had a lot of clout—1,000 employees, 10,000 residents, and lots of constrution contracts to dangle. Of course, everything “we” did as a public entity to re-elect the incumbent was illegal, but this was Newark.
In that a Spartacus only gets one rebellion, I decided to play along, take notes, and attend events, few of them voluntary, all at a cost.
I was there less than a week when “Imelda” suggested I register to vote. That I was already registered in Missouri did not faze her. “Who’d know?”
Each night, the foreign nationals and other trusted insiders hit the phones to persuade the residents to vote for the incumbent. The insiders also identified opinion leaders in the various projects and got them new appliances or even new apartments.
I don’t think even a Kris Kobach understands the depth of the problem. Electoral fraud only ends at the ballot box. It doesn’t begin there. Here is how I know.
On Election Day itself, just about all of my 1,000 fellow employees “volunteered” to take the day off and help get out the vote. I was assigned to a senior-citizen complex in the North End. My job was to escort little old Italian ladies to the polls and assure them that a vote for the incumbent meant that they got to keep their apartment.
Two older Italian guys got the same assignment. After agreeing that none of us would rat the other two out, we ducked out and spent the day at a nearby bakery.
“Are all elections this dirty?” I asked.
“Dirty?” sniffed the one guy. “You should have been here the last time Addonizio ran.” I knew Addonizio, I told them. He gave me my Eagle Scout award.
“That must have been before they sent him to prison,” the other guy laughed.
“See that polling place across the street?” the first guy continued. “I voted there six times. I was dead people. I was old people. I was all kinds of people. And don’t think they weren’t doing the same thing on the other side of town.”
I returned to my office after my day of cannoli-eating. My secretary was wearing a button for the incumbent as big as her head. “How’s our guy going to do?” I asked.
“Don’t care which of them win,” she told me, “just as long as there’s no run off.”
The mood at the Javits Center on election night was more cheerful than at my office the next day. Neither candidate got a majority. This meant another month of phone calls and volunteered days off.
Finally, though, the incumbent did pull it out. “Imelda” called me and about 20 other staff into a meeting. She told us we were all invited to the mayor’s victory breakfast.
We reached for our wallets. “How much?” one staffer asked resignedly.
“Five hundred dollars,” she said, the equivalent today of about $2,000.
“Is this mandatory?” the guy gulped.
“Only if you’re interested in job security,” she snickered.
“Can I make the check out in Swiss francs?” I asked. She laughed. Everyone did. This was Newark after all.