Opinion: Election fraud lessons from the 1866 Congressional elections

HAGERSTOWN, MD News (11/14/2022) – While some have cried foul over David Trone’s defeat of Neil Parrott in the Congressional District 6 race, looking at history we can see that election fraud has been of great concern in this area even in the 19th century, especially during times of national strife and conflict. There are some important lessons to be learned from the 1866 election, and a local newspaper captured it perfectly.

For some context, this was the first United States Congressional elections after the Civil War. The biggest issue of the day was reconstruction of the Union, and Democratic President Andrew Johnson was faced with the tough choices of how to address states which had seceded rejoining the Union. Specifically, he was at odds with the Radical Republicans, who wanted much harsher punishments for states which had left the Union. The following article was published a week after the November 1866 elections.

The election in this County, on Tuesday, of last week, was a most palpable fraud upon the people, and the result, as announced, does not represent their true sentiment. Every species of fraud, intimidation and annoyance was resorted to by the Radicals to prevent a full, fair and free expression of the will. Will the people tamely submit to these things without at least an effort to do themselves justice? We hope not—we think not.

If those who have been defeated by these means do not themselves move in the matter, let the people take hold with a will; get up petitions representing their grievances and demanding of the Legislature that justice be done them. Let them demand that they shall not longer be misrepresented in that body, that those claiming to be the Representatives from this county should be ejected and seats given to those who fairly and honestly are entitled to represent the county, or, that at least the matter be referred back to the people to be decided by a fair and square vote.

We say to the people that they should not permit this matter to rest quietly, but should go to work in earnest, and they can prevent the Radical candidates who claim to be elected from reaping the benefit of the fraud and intimidation, which, if they have not counseled, they at least justify and take advantage of. The Legislature will listen to your appeals and right your wrongs—but, if you would have them do it, you must move in the matter yourselves—show some interest, some desire to have yourselves righted.

Go then to work, show these men who have trampled upon your rights, who seek to misrepresent you, that it cannot be done with impunity and without resistance. Many of you have been turned back from the ballot box where you have just as good right as your opponents while hundreds of others have been deterred from approaching it—have been intimidated by bitter partisan judges and hired assassins. To these things you have submitted quietly as good citizens, patiently awaiting for the time when you could legally and lawfully redress your wrongs. The time has now come. Petitions to the Legislature is one mode. Attend to the matter at once—move in it energetically, and our word for it your voice will be listened to and the matter be at least referred back to the people, when they will set their seal of condemnation on those who are seeking to wear honors and exercise powers dishonestly and dishonorably obtained.

Maryland Free Press. November 15, 1866

The article’s concerns regarding the “Radicals” was not unfounded. The 40th Congress, which was elected in 1866 and took office in 1867, passed several Reconstruction acts including placing former Confederate states under military rule.

Something extremely important can be taken from the 1866 article, which makes claims of election fraud without really providing any proof. Voter turnout must have been abysmally low. If the low turnout was caused by intimidation as claimed in the article, or simply voter apathy, only history knows the real answer. However, we can draw some important lessons from the claims in the article, and apply them today.

Low voter turnout is a problem we face today, and can be easily rectified – show people their vote does matter, and how important down-ballot voting is even if you don’t support either candidate at the top of the ballot. This year, Washington County’s voter turnout was 42.96%, and Maryland’s overall turnout was only 37.35%. This means that for the entire state of Maryland, less than half of the state’s population determined the next four years for Maryland. Love him or hate him, Governor Larry Hogan consistently made his voice known through a write-in protest vote of President in 2020, and Governor in 2022. But more importantly, Governor Hogan still voted in critical local races to support his preferred candidates.

Let’s do some math. Washington County had 99,137 at the time of the election. Of those voters, only 42,587 voted through either mail-in or in-person voting. That means 56,550 people didn’t come to the polls. There are 1.4 registered Republicans in Washington County for every 1 registered Democrat. Even if we estimate that Republican turnout was higher than Democrat turnout, we can likely safely assume that approximately 50% of the people who didn’t vote were Republican, which means at least 28,000 Republicans didn’t vote at all this year in Washington County.

Currently, David Trone has approximately 8,000 more votes than Neil Parrott after counting mail-in ballots. If only 50% of Washington County’s Republicans who didn’t vote had showed up at the polls, Neil Parrott would have likely won the CD6 race.

The most important takeaway from the 1866 article is not that there were accusations of fraud, but that people need to be more involved in the electoral process for it to accurately reflect the will of the people, and more people need to show up to vote if they want their voice heard.

Don’t get me wrong, I have a lot of concerns about election fraud and the security of our elections, and even wrote about some of them in my book “Hacking of the Free”. However, I still firmly believe that the best way to ensure your vote is fairly counted is to show up in-person, and use a paper ballot, especially when the USPS has started issuing warnings not to use their blue mailboxes for important mail due to concerns over theft. I can’t think of anything more important than a ballot, and when ballots can be lost in the mail for two years, that’s cause for concern. I believe that mail-in voting could be properly achieved with the proper security protocols in place, but am hesitant to even support it until the post office improves. With that said, conservatives should consider encouraging mail-in voting if a person would otherwise not vote at all. I will always support in-person voting over mail-in voting, but if it makes the difference between someone voting or not voting, then by all means help them obtain a mail-in ballot. Democrats are embracing this strategy and they’re succeeding at the polls nationally because of it. Republicans can not rely on strong election day turnout, and must work to improve adoption of mail-in voting by non-voters, or they will continue to lose in the polls due to failure of enough voters to show up in-person.

A second takeaway from the 1866 is the labeling of the “Radical Republicans”. Therein lies the second lesson – the real reason locals in Washington County objected to “Radical Republicans” is because these “Radicals” in 1866 wanted to impose strict penalties on states which had sided with the Confederacy. This too could have contributed to voters not showing up at the polls, especially if there were no moderates on the Democrat side either. People want to feel good about their vote, and when they don’t like their options, they simply stay home. Hillary Clinton lost in 2016 for the same reason that Ben Jealous lost in 2018, Donald Trump lost in 2020, and the same reason that Dan Cox lost in 2022 – not enough appeal to moderates and independents. Both parties need to focus on better moderate appeal during the primaries if they want candidates that can truly succeed.

Locally here in Washington County, the District 2B race was very ugly, with a lot of mud slinging. But the numbers tell an interesting story. The truth is, going by just registered Democrat voters in 2B as of July 2022, Brooke Grossman should have won in a landslide, as there are approximately 10 Democrats in 2B for every 7 Republicans. However, District 2B Democrat votes were on-par with expected voter turnout for the county of 42.96%, while Republican votes were far above the county average. This is a good indicator that District 2B Democrats likely weren’t happy with their choices for Maryland Governor, and simply stayed home. This of course assumes that all Republicans and Democrats in 2B who voted made a choice for Delegate, and there was not significant under-voting.

NamePartyTotal VotesRegistered Voters in 2BVotes as Percentage of Registered Party Voters
Brenda J. Thiam (R)Republican4,0797,06857.71%
Brooke Grossman (D)Democratic4,66810,68543.69%
Data as of 11/14/2022 08:17:01 PM

It’s easy to sit back and make accusations of election fraud. After all, we all know the demographics of this area, we all know that this area leans conservative. But when less than half of registered voters show up at the polls, then those polls are guaranteed not to reflect the values of the residents of that district. If you truly want elections to better reflect the will of the people, convince those people that their votes matter, and that they should show up at the polls on election day, even if it’s to make their voice known through a protest vote for a write-in candidate. And if you truly want more people to vote for your party’s candidate, vote smarter in the primaries and support moderate candidates with appeal to both parties.

Article by Ken Buckler, President and Managing Editor. All opinions are his own and do not reflect those of Radio Free Hub City or its clients.

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