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Guest column | Janet Cowling

Voter fraud depends on who's counting

Chicago mobster Al Capone and a few others have been quoted as saying, "Vote early, and vote often."

When I hear that statement I always think of my grandmother and her visit from the Secret Service. Why would they visit an old lady, you ask? Voter fraud, of course.

Grandma lived in a small town in southwestern Virginia and was not in good health. She left home only to go to the doctor or the hospital. This very nice man from one of the local political parties visited her and offered to help her fill out and mail her ballot. Grandma was very flattered that this man cared enough to help her out.

Several weeks later, grandma was in the hospital and a nurse informed her that she had two visitors. You can imagine her surprise when two men walked in and identified themselves as Secret Service agents. They had questions about how her ballot had been filled out and by whom. Apparently there was some evidence of "volunteers" filling out mail-in ballots, but not necessarily according to the voters' wishes, to help out the volunteers' political party. Grandma was fit to be tied when they left her room. She told everyone who would listen that she would never trust that man again even if he was the town banker.

This was not unusual in my part of the country, at least according to my family. My mother said she had her own voting experience many years before grandma's experience. Mom's family belonged to Party A and Dad's family belonged to Party B.

One year a cousin of my mom's was running for a local office, and she wanted very much to vote for him. My parents went to vote early on Election Day, and Dad was informed that he had not paid his poll tax. Mom knew that she paid both at the same time, but had not brought their receipts with her. The poll workers told her that she had paid hers and she could vote. At first she refused if Dad didn't get to, but he reminded her they had to go to work so she voted. Mom said she was so angry that she voted a straight Party B ticket for the first time in her life.

The next day she ran into a cousin who had been in charge of the polling place the day before. He was angry and demanded to know why she had voted Party B. Since the ballot was supposed to be secret, my mother inquired as to how he knew how she voted.

His answer was, "I didn't let any Party Bs vote yesterday and there was one vote in my precinct so it had to be you." Mom always said it served him right.

As you can see, there is a pattern to voter fraud, and the pattern is that you have to be the party in charge to make it work. Kentucky writer Jesse Stuart wrote several short stories about politics in his native Kentucky and although they were fiction I always felt they were more history than fiction considering the nature of voting in my hometown.

When I turned 21, I wanted to register to vote. Virginia did not have election supervisors at that time. Mom called a Party A friend, and she wouldn't give her the name of the local person charged with registering voters. So I wound up at the home of a Party B friend, and while he and my mother sat in lawn chairs down by the riverbank talking politics, I filled out my registration card.

Because I was in college I requested a mail-in ballot. It arrived at my school the same day it needed to be placed in the mail in order to be counted. I walked 18 blocks to get my ballot notarized and back in the mail on time. A friend of my parents was present when the ballots were tabulated and she made sure mine was counted. She said the people in charge kept putting my ballot on the bottom, and she kept putting it back on top until they counted it.

I voted Party B, but Mom said I have probably voted Party A ever since I married and left the state since there is no guarantee that my name was ever removed from the voter rolls. The funny thing is I have a tendency to vote Party A now anyway.

Please remember to vote in the November election. But, don't vote often. After all, it is illegal.

Janet Cowling, a retired state probation officer, lives in Brooksville.

Voter fraud depends on who's counting 10/13/12 [Last modified: Saturday, October 13, 2012 12:14pm]
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