Mock the Vote
Convicted Republican operative tells how to manipulate the electorate
We've always given Orange County Republicans credit for inventing the practice of placing uniformed guards at polling places to intimidate foreign-born voters. Back in 1988, when then-assemblyman Curt Pringle (now the mayor of Anaheim) was running for re-election, guards in blue uniforms showed up at 20 polling places to warn Latino voters they might be committing a crime. Pringle won the election by a mere 843 votes. Pringle, Assemblyman John R. Lewis and the OC GOP later settled a lawsuit over the matter to the tune of $400,000, admitting (of course) no wrongdoing.
But the practice of intimidating ethnic voters with uniformed guards goes further back than that. Political manager Allen Raymond, in his book How to Rig an Election: Confessions of a Republican Operative, credits the Republican National Committee and the New Jersey affiliate for “birthing” the practice back in 1981, when it stationed armed guards wearing black armbands in front of largely minority polling places. In that race, Republican Tom Keane Sr. won the governorship by 1,797 votes. The resulting civil suit was settled for $1.
In an era of 50 percent-plus-one political victories, small acts of voter manipulation may have huge consequences. How to Rig an Election is full of schemes designed to achieve that plus-one. What it's missing is any sense of right or wrong. Raymond trained at Baruch College's Graduate School of Political Management (now at Georgetown University), the “West Point of politics,” where one of the themes endlessly hammered home was “The candidate who asks, 'Is it fair to get me elected this way?' is a candidate who's never won.” Anything goes in the blood sport of politics, and Raymond goes the distance. He was convicted in 2005 of conspiracy to commit phone harassment and served three months.
We often think of political dirty tricksters as ideologues willing to pursue any means to reach a political end. That's not true in Raymond's case. He admits he wasn't political before becoming an operative and that he only went with the Republicans because that's where the money was. Throughout the book, he seems more motivated to succeed for his own good than for that of his chosen party. He reaps more joy from turning the tables on an opponent's smear—call it revenge—than he does from seeing his candidate elected. Even the most hardened cynics will be made more so by How to Rig an Election. The slimy tactics, the candidates on whose behalf they are used, and the easily duped electorate all underscore the worst in human nature.
The book follows Raymond's rise through the ranks, from local New Jersey operative to his participation in Steve Forbes' doomed 2000 presidential bid. Raymond then goes out on his own with an Internet-savvy phone service. He never questions his tactics, even as he's hired to make calls during the Super Bowl to harass targeted voters—calls apparently originating from a candidate he's trying to defeat. Then, when asked by officials in the Republican machine to jam Democratic get-out-the-vote phone lines, he hesitates and calls an attorney. Assured that it's not illegal, it's full-speed ahead.
Raymond's selfish political motivations cast some doubt on his narrative. Once indicted and facing jail time, his family suddenly becomes very important to him and serving the truth Job One. The fact that the Republican machine disowns him in attempts to protect higher-ups spurs his motivation for honesty. At this point, we remember his zeal in seeking revenge on political opponents. Raymond's story may indeed be true, but his previous dishonesty gives his Republican critics more than they need to discredit him.
Still, How to Rig an Election is eye-opening entertainment. We can't help but laugh at some of the morons seeking office whom Raymond helps, or the willingness of the operatives to do the wrong thing on their behalf. Except for Mississippi Governor and former chair of the Republican Nation Committee Haley Barbour, all the national politicians represented here come off smelling foul, especially Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell. Raymond's disgust for our current president's wrong-headed arrogance and sense of privilege is a running gag, until he chokes back his high-mindedness for a paycheck.
At the book's close, Raymond throws the responsibility back on the voters to be wary of how politicians are packaged. Forget the personal lives and rumored character traits of the candidates—how they stand on the issues as determined by their actions has always been the best way to sort them out. (Consider the messenger.) The OC Republican Party may not learn anything they don't already know from Raymond, but the rest of us probably will.
How to Rig an Election: Confessions Of a Republican Operative by Allen Raymond with Ian Spiegelman; Simon N Schuster. Hardcover, 240 pages, $25.