Dirty Tricks

Every Election Day, both parties play foul.


Tales of campaign dirty tricks percolated across the country on Election Day, with the most infamous taking place in the black neighborhoods of Baltimore. A crude, anonymous flier urged everyone to "come out to vote on November 6th" (i.e., the day after the real Election Day). It also claimed that, before you could cast a ballot, you had to pay off your parking tickets, your overdue rent, "and most important any warrants."

The Democrats accused the Republicans, or their freelance supporters, of attempting to suppress the black vote. The reliably Republican National Review gamely declared that the document was actually produced by Democrats, who (by this theory) released just a handful of fliers, enough to get the story on the news and to motivate their base but not enough to actually dissuade blacks from voting. It's a plausible theory, but Occam's Razor points to a Republican plot, not a Democratic one.

Not that Democrats can pat themselves on the back for running clean campaigns across the country. In Boston, for example, union reps were filmed entering polling booths with voters; one woman was accused of offering to "translate" the ballot for immigrants. In South Dakota, Republicans are accusing Democrats of registering imaginary voters and Democrats are accusing Republicans of trying to suppress the Indian vote. Such shenanigans may not be as ubiquitous as they were in the glory days of Daley, Tammany, and the great political machines, but they're obviously far from dead.

The seamy side of the political process doesn't usually get this much play in the mainstream press. If we're more attuned to it now, it's probably because of what happened two years ago, when the electoral meltdown in Florida exposed the underside of politics to public scrutiny. To this day, much of the left believes that Bush stole that election. Which, of course, he did; but if Gore won he would have been just as guilty. Petty theft takes place every November, and on both sides. In a statistical tie, it's enough to swing the outcome.

If Republican Bob Ehrlich had won Maryland's gubernatorial race more narrowly, Tuesday's fliers would have become the basis of a similar he-stole-it mythos, something activists could trot out whenever they need to fire up the Democratic base. Alas: He won by more than a percentage point, scuttling any hopes that the fliers would have traction after the election. The Dems will have to challenge Ehrlich on the issues, and not on his supporters' dirty tricks.

Dammit, they was robbed.