It is interesting to compare the highly contentious 2018 mid-term election with some of the more controversial elections of the past.
Political parties did not show up until after the Electoral College’s unanimous votes for George Washington in 1788 and 1792. In the election of 1796 the candidate who received the most electoral votes, Thomas Jefferson, became the president and the runner-up, John Adams, became his vice-president. Since they were from opposing parties, this resulted in the two offices being filled by political opponents. In 1800, both presidential candidates, Jefferson and Adams, had running mates. For some strange reason the Electoral College treated all four as presidential candidates and ended up tied at 73 votes each for Jefferson and his running mate, Aaron Burr. The choice then went to the House of Representatives, which also cast a tie vote. When the House remained deadlocked after 34 more tie votes, Rep. Alexander Hamilton (whom Aaron Burr later killed in a duel) intervened, and Jefferson was reelected president.
In 1824 there were four presidential candidates, all from the same party. Andrew Jackson led with 113,122 popular votes and 99 electoral votes, and John Quincy Adams had 151,271 popular votes and 84 electoral votes. Since neither had a majority of the total of 261 electoral votes, the decision again went to the House of Representatives which oddly voted for John Quincy Adams.
In the election of 1876, Democrat William J. Tilden led Republican Rutherford B. Hayes in the popular vote, 4,288,548 to 4,034,311. But 22 electoral votes from four states, three of which had been Confederate States, were disputed. Congress stepped in and certified Hayes to be the winner over Tilden 185 to 184 in return for ending Reconstruction occupation of the Southern states, stealing the election from Tilden.
The 2000 presidential race between George W. Bush and Al Gore became the most hotly contested in U.S. history over the “hanging-chad” controversy in Florida, whose 25 electoral votes would determine the winner. An automatic machine recount, required because Bush led by only 1,784 votes, reduced his margin to 327 votes. Gore requested a manual recount, which the Florida Supreme Court ordered on December 8. The next day, the U.S. Supreme Court by a 5-4 vote stopped the recount and three days later gave the presidency to Bush.
There have been five presidential elections in which the candidate who lost the Electoral College vote won more popular votes than the victor, but usually by only a slim margin. In the 2016 election, although Donald Trump won the Electoral College vote 306 to 232, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by a huge margin of 2.8 million votes. Trump’s ego drove him to falsely blame that on “the millions of fraudulent votes cast by illegal aliens.” An impartial investigation failed to find more than a dozen fraudulent votes. But there had been a major effort by Russian agents to distort the election in Trump’s favor by injecting false information into the social media, which would be picked up and spread by undiscerning viewers.
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Last month’s mid-term election revealed increasing political intervention attempting to alter the outcome of our elections. The most insidious is gerrymandering — redrawing voting districts to the advantage of the majority party. Splitting areas with smaller concentrations of minorities among adjoining majority districts will assure that their votes don’t count. In areas with larger concentrations of minorities, putting as many as possible into as few districts as possible will prevent their affecting the outcomes in other districts. Gerrymandering can make it possible for less than 45 percent of the voters to control the elections of State Legislatures and the U.S. House of Representatives.
A very simple way of altering election results is to reduce the number of polling places in minority areas and providing fewer booths to create long lines and discourage people from voting. Another common practice is to disenfranchise minority voters, typically African-Americans, Hispanics and 18-21 year olds, by imposing restrictive voter verification requirements. A common practice in southern states, where African-Americans are commonly given more severe sentences for petty crimes, is to disenfranchise anyone ever convicted of a felony from voting. Presently, nearly six million felons who have served their terms (five times the number in 1976) are disenfranchised — one-quarter of them in Florida.
All of these are effective ways by which one party is keeping millions of citizens who are not likely to vote the “right” way from exercising their constitutional right to vote.