NORTH DENVER — With all the talk about supposed voter fraud during this current election, I thought people might enjoy my remembrance of folks in North Denver who loved paper ballots and a unique ability to influence some ballots. Of course, with machines counting votes these shenanigans could not happen today. Here is my story.
The old machine men seated around the literature folding tables at Michael Pomponio’s Democratic Club on 48th near Pecos judiciously piled up stacks of literature for distribution for the election pending and complained bitterly about the new voting machines which the city now used. Sam Dock, a House door keeper at the legislature, bemoaned, “Give me paper ballots any day.” All harrumphed and agreed. Cigar smoke filled the air. Pictures autographed to Mike from FDR, JFK, and Harry Truman stood at attention like good soldiers on the club’s walls.
I innocently asked Court Doyle, one of Mr. Pomponio’s lieutenants, who went to school with my aunts and uncles at St. Dominic’s school here in North Denver, “Why are these guys so down on the new voting machines which the city has been using for 10 years, Courtlandt?” Of all the old machine men there, I knew Court would at least answer my question. I was ‘the new guy,” as referred to me by Mr. Pomponio. I had been finally admitted to the back room at the Democratic Club a year after defeating his candidate against me for the House seat in North Denver. More cigar smoke hung like ominous clouds in the air of the Democratic club.
“Dennis, the old paper ballots were easy to manipulate and the counters can’t change the tabulated vote count from a machine,” he responded warmly, but sarcastically, as he often did. “Gallagher, were you born yesterday?” Courtlandt chimed, like the voice of Jackie Gleason talking to Art Carney. More cigar smoke puffs, Democratic incense from a terrible thurible.
“Explain how the counters could change a vote count on paper ballots,” I innocently asked again. “Especially since Democrats with Republicans watching each other counted the old paper ballots? Don’t they keep each other honest? Was that not enough accountability and internal control?” Court laughed out loud. The machine men looked up from their paper work and frowned at Court. They probably wondered why he was talking to the newcomer.
Courtlandt lowered his voice so the machine men at the table could not hear him. “Here’s how it was done. And R and D party counters used to collaborate on the scheme,” he answered. “The party counters helped each other out on this. They were all the same, just like today, you couldn’t tell them apart.” And I intoned, “can’t tell them apart on issues either.”
“The counters would put a band aid on the tip of their right little finger. Paper cuts from counting, you know. But inside the band aid, the counter would place a small lead pencil point. An outsider or even an independent poll watcher was none the wiser on the scheme. Republican counters had their favorite candidates and Democrats had theirs and counters would help each other’s preferred candidate out on the count,” Court whispered. “Dennis, I think the Arabs call it Baksheesh, ‘you scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours.’”
“So as the ballot counter scanned a particular ballot, and saw his candidate did not get the vote, he simply used his pinky finger to swipe a mark with the lead point on the other candidate’s box. Dennis, that second mark on the ballot invalidated that particular vote on the ballot.” Court concluded with a tisk from his lips.
“And, Dennis, the secret was to make sure that your counter did not spoil all the votes, just enough ballots to help win the election,” Court shared. Pomponio said, “Don’t be greedy, boys, just enough to win, fair and square. This is America.” Court confessed to me: “I never did it, Dennis. But it was clever, huh?” By now Mr. Pomponio had brought in cauldrons full of steaming spaghetti and meatballs for all from his DX restaurant next door. Gratefully, the strong pungent smell of garlic began to push out the plumes of smoke from this old back room at the Democratic Club on 48th Avenue and Pecos.
So a system, which uses paper ballots, is fine, but the system has to enforce proper internal controls. Machine counts can’t be manipulated like the old paper ballots. The system has to make sure that the folks overseeing the counting machines don’t get their band aids caught in the counting machines.
Remember Stalin: “It’s not the people who vote that count; it’s the people who count the votes.”
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