I moved to Chicago in the fall of 1982* and immediately became fascinated by the drama and comedy of the Illinois gubernatorial election vote counting. The Republican candidate James Thompson had been ahead by a lot in all the polls, but on election night the Democratic candidate, Adlai Stevenson III, came out of nowhere to make the election a tie.
The lead seesawed back and forth as local political bosses discovered new supplies of votes they hadn’t gotten around to counting before.
I had recently read the new autobiography of journalist Theodore White, so it seemed pretty clear to me what was going on.
In his memoir, White had given an inside story of the notorious 1960 Presidential election vote counting in Illinois that he had left out of his more romanticized The Making of the President 1960. White was hanging out with the Kennedy inner circle at Hyannisport the day after the 1960 election, with Illinois, and possibly the Presidency, still up for grabs. Missing were GOP precincts downstate and Mayor Daley’s Cook County. White wrote:
“Even in the most corrupt states of the Union, one cannot steal more than one or two percent of the vote… The AP was pressing its reporters for returns, and the reporters were trying to gouge out of the Republican and Democratic machines their vote-stealing, precinct by precinct totals. … It was downstate (Republican) versus Cook County (Democratic), and the bosses, holding back totals from key precincts, were playing out their concealed cards under pressure of publicity as in a giant game of blackjack.
“… the AP ticker chattered its keys once more and reported: ‘ With all downstate precincts now reported in, and only Cook County precincts unreported, Richard Nixon has surged into the lead by 3,000 votes.’
“I was dismayed, for if Nixon really carried Illinois, the game was all but over. And at this point I was jabbed from dismay by the outburst of jubilation from young Dick Donahue, who yelped, ‘He’s got them! Daley made them go first! He’s still holding back — watch him play his hand now.” I was baffled, they were elated. But they knew the counting game better than I, and as if in response to Donahue’s yelp, the ticker, having stuttered along for several minutes with other results, announced: ‘With the last precincts of Cook County now in, Senator Kennedy has won a lead of 8,000 votes to carry Illinois’s 27 electoral votes.’
Later that evening, Kennedy told his friend Ben Bradlee of an early call from Daley, when all seemed in doubt. “With a little bit of luck and the help of a few close friends,” Daley had assured Kennedy before the AP had pushed out the count, “you’re going to carry Illinois.”
The 1982 vote count was the mirror image. Finally, after several days, the GOP leaders of heavily Republican DuPage County in the Chicago suburbs discovered a whole bunch of uncounted votes that they had, in all the excitement of the previous few days, overlooked.
Thompson took a 5,000 vote lead.
Stevenson demanded a statewide recount, but the state Supreme Court refused on a 4-3 vote. The Democrat finally conceded three days before Thompson’s inauguration.
Black civil rights leader Mary Frances Berry wrote an informative article for Salon last winter about all the shenanigans on the Democratic side in 1982 that led the federal prosecutor to indict dozens of Democratic operatives in Cook County:
Election fraud Chicago style: Illinois’ decades-old notoriety for election corruption is legendary
These days, opportunities for corruption may have shrunk for civil servants, but not for business leaders
MARY FRANCES BERRY
SUNDAY, FEB 14, 2016 06:00 AM PST
I was also under the impression that five GOP workers in DuPage County had gotten in trouble over 1982, but maybe that was for something else. I found an interview with Stevenson that was summarized:
U.S. Attorney Dan Webb did investigate the vote fraud allegations, and found major problems in Cook County leading to 63 convictions, but no one was prosecuted from the Republican stronghold in DuPage County.
By the way, when Stevenson ran against Thompson in 1986, another bizarre thing happened:
Stevenson ran again for governor in 1986, with the polls in late 1985 giving him a good chance for victory. His plans were upset during the Democratic primary when two supporters of Lyndon LaRouche won as Democrats to represent the party in the Lieutenant Governor and Secretary of State races. Stevenson eventually ran under the banner of the newly created Solidarity Party rather than run with a LaRouche candidate on the ticket.
* Unlike Barack Obama, who moved to Chicago about 32 months after me, I never felt the slightest urge to become a Chicago politician.