Election Jamming

“We are encouraging people to eat their ballots.”

— The Edible Ballot Society

Elections can be jammed too, and frequently are both by wily political operatives and by people who enjoy messing with politicians.

“They persuade loyal Republicans to accept a nuclear dump in their backyards and to sign up their children for war against North Korea. Professional ironists the Yes Men tell Oliver Burkeman that, in Bush’s America, people will believe anything.”

That’s Yes Bush Can — the phony pro-Bush group that dogged the president and candidate during the 2004 election.

Don’t miss our special section on Nixon’s own dirty tricks man: Dick Tuck.

“Voting is not only useless, it actually undermines genuine democracy by legitimizing an inherently undemocratic process. During this election we are encouraging people to eat their ballots,” say the folks at The Edible Ballot Society. Criminally charged with violations of Canada’s elections laws, which prohibit the mutilation (and presumably the mastication) of ballots, members of the group vowed to eat their subpoenas.

Shortly before the 2000 elections in the United States, an email started circulating that claimed that because expected voter turnout was higher than anticipated, in order to keep the polls from being overwhelmed Republicans should vote on November 7th as planned, while voters for other parties should wait until the 8th. Okay, so that’s kind of dumb, but some folks will fall for anything, particularly Democrats.

Republican tricksters were back at work in 2002, putting up fliers in Democrat-leaning neighborhoods of Baltimore that misstated the date of the election and warned potential voters to “make sure you pay your parking tickets, motor vehicle tickets, overdue rent and most important: any warrants.”

Paul Mavrides reports:

During the 1972 [U.S. presidential] election I had a roommate who subscribed to the Wall Street Journal. One day I opened up the paper and couldn’t believe my eyes: there, right in front of me, was a full-page ad for the Committee to Re-Elect Richard Nixon, surrounded by a border of alternating swastikas and American flags! The next day, the Wall Street Journal explained that someone in the layout department had gotten a little “creative,” and that he had subsequently been fired.

Thanks to the hacking efforts of a computer science student at U.C. Riverside, one “American Ninja” got 800 votes in the student government elections.

Before the 2004 presidential elections in the United States, a photo circulated that showed presidential candidate John Kerry sharing the stage with Jane Fonda — an actress who was widely reviled for allegedly treasonous activity during the Vietnam War. The photo got a lot of play in anti-Kerry email before it was revealed to be a fake.

British Conservative parliamentary candidate Ed Matts needed a photo for his campaign material of some people protesting against immigration. The photo he sent out, though, was a doctored photo of two people who had been protesting against the deportation of an immigrant! Their sign, which had read “Let Them Stay” was altered to read “Controlled Immigration, Not Chaos & Inhumanity!”

While we’re at it, how many photoshopped troops can you count in this ad from Dubya’s 2004 campaign?

“Steve Rocco didn’t file a candidate statement or mount a campaign for the school board. He’s unknown to teachers and the district and only barely known to his neighbors… He ignored mail from district officials and the teachers union during the campaign. When the PTA sent him an invitation to a candidate forum, the letter came back unopened.”

But for reasons obscure, he won the election. “‘Absolutely nobody, but nobody has seen this guy,’ said Paul Pruss, a middle school teacher and president of the union. ‘The whole thing is just bizarre.’”

Not only that, but Steve Rocco might be Andy Kaufman.

Punk rocker Jello Biafra had a great time running for mayor of San Francisco in 1979.

In 2003, voters in Bolinas, California approved by a two to one margin Measure G “for Bolinas to be a socially acknowledged nature-loving town because to like to drink the water out of the lakes to like to eat the blueberries to like the bears is not hatred to hotels and motor boats. Dakar. Temporary and way to save life, skunks and foxes (airplanes to go over the ocean) and to make it beautiful.”

It was only a matter of time before someone decided to cut out the middle man and start a web site where people could sell their votes directly.

Campaigns use dirty tricks like Push Polls in which campaign workers masquerading as poll-takers use the loaded questions to plant ideas in the minds of those polled. (“Would you consider yourself to be more or less likely to vote for Lester Green if the press revealed that he molested girl scouts in his solid gold imported limousine while being chauffered by illegal immigrants working at slave wages?”)

Speaking of molesting girl scouts… You know those pamphlets you get in the mail every election season that list voting recommendations from the “League of Concerned Citizens” or “Neighbors in Favor of Truth & Beauty” or “People for Honesty and Values” or what have you? They’re called “slate sheets,” and they’re big business.

Yeah, business. Those concerned citizens groups are, more often than not, just the names of savvy political advertisers who sell space on the slates to the highest bidders. It’s a pretty sly deal – you pick a couple of popular ballot initiatives or politicians, and send fliers to likely enthusiasts for them. The other politicians on the slate get the benefits of being associated with the popular stuff on the slate.

And it’s plenty dishonest, of course, but not much more so than other political advertising. But there was this one time… in California… in 2002… a fellow named Timothy M. Carey raked in a quarter of a million dollars from politicians who wanted their names in his “Parents’ Guide”.

And then the press caught on to the fact that a decade earlier, this guider of parents had done jail time for molesting the pre-teen daughter of a family friend.

A couple of months before the 2004 U.S. presidential election, 60 Minutes uncovered four memos dating from President Bush’s Texas National Guard service that indicated he was trying to pull strings to get out of duty.

When the memos (dating from 1972 and 1973) were released, people discovered that they could be reproduced almost exactly using Microsoft Word’s default settings (such as font and margins):

1 a line from the C B S memo
2 the same line in M S Word
  1. a section from the memos CBS released
  2. a section from a reproduction of the memos using Microsoft Word

Wrote one of the bloggers who participated in the dehoaxing: “Tomorrow morning, dinosaur media across the country will be headlining the 60 Minutes ‘scoop’ as a blow to the Bush campaign. Before their newspapers are even printed, not only is the story obsolete, but CBS is in full retreat… [T]he credit really goes to the incredible power of the internet. We knew nothing; all of our information came from our readers. Many thousands of smart, well-informed people who only a few years ago would have had no recourse but perhaps to write a letter to their local newspaper, now can communicate and share their expertise in real time, through sites like this one. The power of the medium is incredible, as we’ve seen over the last fourteen hours.”

The ad agency is calling it a “mixup” but I suspect that someone was trying to be sly. The agency put up a billboard along I-485 in North Carolina that read “Gore 2000” but showed a picture of Al Gore’s opponent in the “election,” Bush II.

You just can’t trust campaign literature these days.

The Youth International Party, U.S.A. (Yippies) produced a voter’s guide in 1968 that read, in part:

  1. Vote. Bring some spare underwear with you, preferably that of the opposite sex, and fling it over the top of the booth while you’re voting.
  2. Help others vote. Stand outside the polls silently handing out sharpened pencils to voters on their way in. If you feel this is insufficiently militant, hand out kitchen matches…
  3. Get out the vote. Volunteer for Election Day precinct work. Cover a precinct for Nixon. Cover the same precinct for Humphrey and Wallace. Once they’ve signed you up for a precinct, they’re counting on you to get out the vote there. You may want to do more than one precinct.

A nod (and a wink) to Screaming Lord Sutch of Britain’s Monster Raving Loony Party.

®TMark has taken on a number of guerrilla hacking tasks, including making an impressive parody web site of George W. Bush’s election campaign…

For other good ideas, check out the Political Hooliganism down under, or a history of dirty tricks in political campaigns.

In 1978, California was governed by Jerry “Governor Moonbeam” Brown. Lowell Darling ran against him in the ’78 election, and decided to out-moonbeam him. “Among other things, Darling promised, if elected, to invest in psychic-powered cars, do away with parking tickets — because of the energy shortage, he reasoned, ‘we should encourage people to park rather than drive’ — freeze highway construction and use the money to pay Californians to be themselves (Jerry Brown would still run the state), and give everybody Wednesdays off. He got about 62,000 votes…”

“…[H]e says [he] was so bored by George Bush and Al Gore that he flirted with the idea of running for president in 2000. But campaign finance rules had become so complicated and legally encumbering, he passed. A campaign finance lawyer warned him that his plan to use campaign contributions to get matching funds, and then give the donors back their money and half of the matching funds, would not amuse election officials.”

The group Billionaires for Bush puts on ostensibly pro-Dubya protests, yelling “buy your own president!” at anti-Dubya protesters. Formerly known as “Billionaires for Bush (or Gore),” the group started to franchise into dozens of groups around the United States as the 2004 presidential elections approached.

In May of 2004 I heard a wonderful interview with members of Billionaires for Bush on the radio station KPFA. Everybody played it straight, and the show got a number of calls from enraged listeners who didn’t get the joke. An amazing piece of performance art on many levels. Congratulations!

For three United States presidential elections running, Phil Parlock has made the news claiming that while peacefully demonstrating for the Republican candidate, wicked Democrats have come and assaulted him and his family.

Meanwhile, Kyle Vallone has had hundreds of letters-to-the-editor published praising the candidate he works for, and condemning his opponent, under dozens of pseudonyms, including Batswala Dala and France Amoore.

Kerry and Fonda fake
Kerry and Fonda fake

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snig·gle (v) — To fish for eels by thrusting a baited hook into their hiding places.