Gilded Age Corruption

Controversy over election reform and fraud are nothing new, of course. This fact was brought home to me recently when I chanced upon an 18-year-old article about vote fraud in the 1889 Jersey City elections, in which 56 people eventually went to jail because of irregularities. The article was by John F. Reynolds and appeared in the Summer 1993 edition of Social Science History (“A Symbiotic Relationship: Vote Fraud and Electoral Reform in the Gilded Age”)

Two things about this article jumped out at me, in addition to the neat details about the case. First, Reynolds concludes that the big problem was the fact that a host of new election reforms were being implemented by old guard election officials. What ensued was often not fraud, but just sloppiness as they tried to cope with a lot of changes at once. (Sound familiar?) Second, Reynolds conducts a nice bit of election forensics that helps to illustrate what patterns of election returns look like when there’s likely fraud and when there isn’t. Very contemporary.

Check this one out.  For my friends with JSTOR access, I believe this link will take you to the article.