Jim Bradshaw: Hacking the vote is nothing new in Louisiana politics
All this talk about hacking during the election is just a new twist on an old story in Louisiana. Back in the day, eyebrows went up when nobody called foul over chicanery at the election place or after the votes were counted, not when some supposed irregularity was found.
That continued into relatively recent times in some parts of Louisiana. As late as 1987, an LSU professor explained it this way to a USA Today reporter: “Politics plays the role in Louisiana that TV wrestling does in the rest of the nation. It is fixed. It is flamboyant. It is surreal. It is our spectator sport.”
The campaigns themselves were just a prelude to the vote. In the days before instant social media, candidates often got away with saying one thing in one part of the state and something different in another. When, for example, Earl Long was caught promising something in Lake Charles on Monday and the complete opposite in Monroe on Wednesday, he told questioning north Louisiana reporters, “Just say I lied on Monday.”
In a slightly different take on the same theme, it’s said that English-speaking candidates from north Louisiana regularly made “contributions” to Vermilion Parish’s inimitable Dudley LeBlanc so that Dudley would speak well of them during his popular French-language radio program broadcast across south Louisiana.
Dudley took the money but as often as not, though always with a smile in his voice that sounded like he was giving compliments, he would vilify the north Louisiana scoundrel who didn’t understand a word of what LeBlanc was saying.
You’ll remember that when voting machines came into wide use, Earl said he could make them do whatever he wanted them to do, what we call hacking today. He went so far as to claim that with a proper mechanic, he could make a voting machine whistle “Home Sweet Home.” He also said it was only a coincidence that he won in places he’d never won before in the first Louisiana election in which the machines were used. Voters just had a change of heart, he said.
Before voting machines came into use, ballot boxes were routinely “stuffed” with votes for one candidate or another. In the 1930 election, Huey Long was slightly embarrassed — but only slightly — when he received 3,979 votes in St. Bernard Parish even though there were only 2,510 registered voters there.
That caused him to call the St. Bernard sheriff two years later, when Huey’s friend O.K. Allen was running for the Senate, telling the sheriff to “stop counting (the votes), we’ve got enough.”
Judge Leander Perez, who ruled in Plaquemines Parish for decades, had a simple explanation when he received more votes than there were people in a certain precinct. “Oh, don’t worry about them,” he said of the extra ballots. “Those are just absentees.”
Maybe the old attitudes are summed up in an apocryphal story told by Huey’s son and longtime U.S. Sen. Russell Long about a politician and one of his friends who were out in a graveyard late one night “researching” names to be added to the voting lists.
The spooky cemetery made the friend nervous and he wanted to get out of there and go home even though all of the headstones had not been properly checked.
The politician refused to leave. Waving his arm toward the dozen or so graves in front of him, he told the anxious friend, “Wait a minute. These people have just as much right to vote as any of the others.”
According to another story, at least some of those folks did vote. That one is about the fellow who dragged himself disconsolately into the barber shop on the day after an election.
“Man, you look terrible,” the barber said. “What’s the matter?”
“Well,” the fellow said. “You know I thought my parents died years ago.”
“Yep, I went to their funerals.”
“Well, it must not be true,” the customer said. “Both of them came to town yesterday and voted, and didn’t even call me on the phone.”
A collection of Jim Bradshaw’s columns, Cajuns and Other Characters, is now available from Pelican Publishing. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 1121, Washington LA 70589.