Are we headed for another 'stolen' election?
By SAMUEL K. GOVE
Edmund F. Kallina Jr. Courthouse Over White House:
As Americans elect a new president this month, it is fitting to examine one of the most controversial elections in Illinois history that of 1960. Republicans claim that this election was stolen from Richard Nixon and with it the presidency. Historian Edmund F. Kallina Jr. argues in this impressively researched book that it was a much more complex situation than such popular mythology suggests.
Kallina points out that the real action in the 1960 election in Illinois involved the race for state's attorney. Republican incumbent Benjamin Adamowski (a former Democrat) was running for reelection against Daniel Ward. Mayor Richard J. Daley went all out to defeat Adamowski, a possible challenger to Daley's own future reelection bid. The powerful Illinois Democratic organization stressed the state's attorney's race over the presidential contest, thus supplying Kallina's title.
The 1960 election in Illinois was further complicated by Gov. William G. Stratton's campaign for a third consecutive term, election to which had never before been accomplished in the state's history. For some, he emerged as a "villain" in the story because his overwhelming defeat that year was blamed for helping to bring down the rest of the Republican ticket.
Unlike the gubernatorial race, the presidential election was close in Illinois, with most charges of vote fraud centering in Cook County particularly in Chicago. There were calls for recounts and appointments of special prosecutors, none of which changed the result: Kennedy carried the state by 8,858 votes. But were the charges of widespread corruption, complaints about Stratton's role in Nixon's defeat in the state and claims that losing Illinois cost Nixon the presidency valid? Kallina delivers a mixed verdict.
The recount was never completed, and the Republican-dominated state election board (including Stratton) certified the outcome of the balloting. On the question of how he and Nixon had fared at the polls, Stratton said: ". . . despite my defeat. . . we were able to almost carry the state for Nixon. . . . He probably did better in Illinois than in practically any other large industrial state excepting Ohio and only lost [here] by 8,000 at a time when he was losing states like Pennsylvania and New York by much larger majorities. . . . We've always maintained that we did an exceptionally good job on a comparative basis."
On the issue of vote fraud and its consequences, Kallina agrees that Nixon was cheated out of several thousand Illinois votes at a minimum, but argues that this number was not so overwhelming as to prove that he was thereby swindled out of the state's electoral votes. In his view, "no one can say with certainty who 'really' carried Illinois in 1960. The available evidence is too fragmentary and inconclusive to permit a final judgment."
In contrast, Kallina says that Adamowski would have won if the recount had been completed. Adamowski lost the election by 26,000 votes, but Kallina believes that irregularities cost him more than 30,000 votes in Chicago, concluding that Adamowski was robbed of victory.
Naturally, the defeat of Nixon dominated the national press, and the "stolen election" became a Republican allying cry. However, Kallina views this version of events as simplistic. "Democrats in Chicago stole votes, but it was by no means plain that they had acted in a concerted conspiracy to deprive Nixon of the election. If anything, they had been so occupied with ensuring the defeat of Adamowski that it is questionable as to how much time and energy they could have spent on trying to alter the results of the presidential election."
Summing up, Kallina writes: "Illinois was not vital to Kennedy's final majority in the electoral college, though if Republicans had been able to move Illinois' electoral votes into the Republican column they undoubtedly would have been tempted to pursue their challenge of Kennedy more vigorously. What the conventional accounts have omitted is the importance of the race for state's attorney. Much of the bitterness and the maneuvering before and after the election centered on the outcome of this contest. . . . Chicago politicians had no doubt that while Kennedy and Ward were the nominal winners, the real victor was Daley. While Nixon was the most publicized defeated candidate, the real loser was Adamowski and his dream of becoming mayor of Chicago."
Regarding the current election, two related thoughts come to mind. First, the 1970 Illinois Constitution separated federal and state elections. Kallina makes a good case for separating national and local elections too. Second, are we heading for a repeat of 1960? Will the contest for Cook County circuit clerk (Edward Vrdolyak, Democrat-turned-Republican, v. Democrat Aurelia Pucinski) overshadow the presidential race among Chicago politicians? If the 1988 races prove as close as those of 1960, we have a potential problem. Because of action by the Illinois Supreme Court in the 1982 gubernatorial contest, we now have no recount statute. With its solid documentation of the past and its continuing relevance for the present, Courthouse Over White House is required reading this season for any state political junkie.□
Samuel K. Gove is professor of political science and director emeritus of the Institute of Government and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois.
November 1988 | Illinois Issues | 28