Journal of Policy History


Machine Politics, Police Corruption, and the Persistence of Vote Fraud: The Case of the Louisville, Kentucky, Election of 1905

Tracy A. Campbella1

a1 University of Kentucky

Although vote fraud is an acknowledged component of American political culture, scholarship on the inner workings of stealing elections is rather thin. Despite popular exposés by nineteenth-century muckrakers, the functioning dynamics of vote stealing remains somewhere beneath the visible layer of political analysis. The Gilded Age has been the recipient of some extensive studies of ballot corruption, but scholars have generally concluded that the extent of fraud in changing the actual outcome of a specific race was exaggerated, and with the advent of the Australian, or secret, ballot in the early 1890s, American elections took on a decidedly freer and fairer tone. The scholarship surrounding vote fraud has also tended to focus on a secondary issue: Did the secret ballot diminish fraud to the point where earlier turnout levels could be seen as inflated? Following the lead of Walter Dean Burnham, numerous scholars have answered decidedly in the negative—the level of fraud was so insignificant as not to change turnout totals in any meaningful way.