Thursday, July 9, 2020

Low Down Dirty Vote: Inspired by a Texan who fought voter fraud

HALLIE EPHRON: What a great idea: an anthology of crime fiction about voter suppression. Writer and anthology editor Mysti Berry told an interviewer how the idea came to her:  
“I was sitting in a restaurant with my husband after the 2016 election, feeling horribly na├»ve to have believed all these years that voting rights were universally protected in the United States. It was news to me that people in this country, since at least the time of Nixon, have been actively seeking ways to keep Democrats from voting. They try to disenfranchise people of color, young voters, any residents of blue districts in red states. In that restaurant, feeling stupid, staring hopelessly at the condensation on my water glass, a title came to me out of nowhere: 'Low Down Dirty Vote.' The last thing voting should be. And thus, Volume I was published July 4, 2018."

"Low Down Dirty Vote - Volume II" is just out and proceeds will benefit the Southern Poverty Law Center's projects to support voting rights in the United States. Scott Turow wrote the introduction. We’re delighted to welcome one of the contributors, Jim Doherty, to talk about the fascinating character and chapter in history that inspired his story.

JIM DOHERTY: Winston Churchill, one of the greatest leaders of a democracy in the history of leaders of democracies, nailed democracy’s point when he described, with almost mystic reverence, “ . . . the little man, walking into the little booth, with a little pencil, making a little cross on a little bit of paper—no amount of rhetoric or voluminous discussion can possibly diminish the overwhelming importance of that point.”

When that hypothetical “little man [or woman]” makes that mark, s/he is absolutely equal to everyone else making that little mark, Be they stronger, smarter, healthier, wealthier, when they’re making their “mark,” they’ve an equal say in their governance.

That’s why it’s so important that citizens aren’t kept from voting, or that their votes aren’t rendered pointless by fraud or theft.

I’m proud to be one of one of the contributors to LDDV2. “The Lord of LaValle” features Gus Hachette, a character I’ve developed in other stories.

He’s based on a real-life Texas law officer who, during an amazingly eventful career, was virtually every kind of policeman it’s possible to be, state cop, small-town police chief, big city detective, deputy sheriff, and federal investigator.

Researching him over the years, I became convinced that he wasn’t just a great cop, but possibly the greatest ever to pin on a badge. An inspiration to me in my police career. A spark to my imagination in my writing career.

But writing Gus was difficult. You’d think with characters and events all laid out in history, it’d be a snap. But real-life’s messy. Fiction’s tidy. Tidying up real-life into readable fiction is sometimes harder than just making it up.

Still, those real-life stories are so damned compelling!

Max Allan Collins, who’s made a career out of fictionalizing real-life crimes, once said, “God’s a great storyteller, but He’s a lousy plotter,” adding, “That’s why He created writers.”

When the call for submissions to LDDV2 went out, I recalled that one of the last crimes my real-life model investigated was a case of voter fraud in an election for US Senator. The contenders in the Democrat primary were a popular former governor and an up-and-coming young congressman. At that time, Texas being part of the Solid South, whoever won the primary would be the de facto Senator-Elect.

A notorious political boss conveniently found enough uncounted ballots to swing the election from one candidate to the other. Gus’s original was called out of semi-retirement to investigate.

In the true-life case, he was unable to prevent the fraud his investigation clearly showed had occurred, and the losing candidate won. This had profoundly tragic consequences, among which were the deaths, in combat, of 60,000 US soldiers, to no real purpose.

In my fictional version, the good guys win!

Tidying up reality, indeed.

The story itself had an unexpected “come-from-behind” win, too.

After I submitted it, Mysti wrote back, praising “The Lord of LaValle” as “an amazing story.” But she’d already accepted a Texas-set piece featuring a flamboyant cop, and didn’t want two such similar stories.

C’est la vie, I thought. Thanking her for considering it, I sent it out to other markets.

Then, several weeks later, she e-mailed me again. She’d decided, after comparing the stories, that they really weren’t all that similar. If mine was still available, could she include it?

That’s never happened to me before. I’ve been accepted. And Lord knows, I’ve been rejected. But I’d never been rejected, and then had the editor reconsider, on her own, and get accepted after already being rejected.

But Gus’s model was known for his “come-from-behind” wins, too.

HALLIE: Are you feeling the effects of voter suppression in your world? Where I am in Massachusetts, I'm afraid I take for granted that voting is a piece of cake. Usually it takes under ten minutes, and this year it's been made much easier to mail in ballots. But I know it's not like that everywhere.


JIM DOHERTY a policeman for over 20 years, has served US law enforcement at the federal, state, and local levels. He’s the author of the true-crime collection Just the Facts – True Tales of Cops & Criminals, which included the WWA Spur-winning article, “Blood for Oil,” and the novel An Obscure Grave, a CWA Dagger finalist.

46 comments:

  1. Jim, I’m sorry the good guys didn’t win in real life, but cheers for the good guys winning in the story! Now I’ll have to hunt up a copy of your book . . . .

    How sad to hear there are places in the United States that try to suppress voters. I can’t say we’ve felt any of that here and, like you, Hallie, I’ve pretty much taken it for granted that it’s an easy process. In the past, we all went to the firehouse; this last election, we got ballots in the mail . . . .

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    1. This election we've asked for mail-in ballots too... for the first time. One of my earliest memories is going to vote with my mother. Standing beside her in the curtained voting booth (her knees were at my eye-level).

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  2. Joan,

    I'm glad you enjoyed my guest 'blog well enough to seek out the book. Thanks for commenting.

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  3. Congratulations on your story being accepted, rejected and accepted again, Jim! Gus Hachette does sound like an "almost too good to be true" LEO but I am glad he's real.

    In Canada, voter suppression does not seem to be a big issue. One main reason is because our election and voting processes are so different from the USA.

    Canadians do NOT vote to choose the candidate for each party (primaries) in the provinces/territories or for the country. Each political party does that within its ranks (a few thousand people).

    Canadians vote in the general election for the local MP (member of parliament federally, or member of provincial parliament in a provincial election). And the election campaign only lasts a couple of months, nothing like the long-drawn out process in the USA.

    The list of eligible voters is mostly compiled when we acknowledge our eligibility when filing our annual income tax returns. Others can be added during an election, but they are a minority of the population.

    Canadians usually vote once every 4 years to elect a Prime Minister (federal) or Premier (province/territory) in separate elections. The exception is when we have a minority government, which is what we currently have federally. These minority governments usually do not last the entire 4 years so a quick federal election is called when the government falls. Again, we have no say in the candidates to vote for and the process is done in a couple of months.

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    1. Thanks for the explanation, Grace - I had no idea. NO idea. One of my cherished possessions is an OBAMA FOR PRIME MINISTER T-shirt that a fan in Vancouver gave me.

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    2. I want a Trudeau for President t-shirt!

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    3. Thanks for taking the time to comment, Grace.

      I also appreciate the explanation of the differences between US and Canadian election proedures.

      If election fraud or voter suppression ever does rear its head, I'm sure there's a Mountie who can set things straight, just as there was a Texas Ranger here.

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  4. I have this book on my kindle! A great cause to benefit. Like Hallie, I'm lucky to live in Massachusetts but I've read about states where things are far worse.

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    1. It IS a great cause. To see more about it: https://www.splcenter.org/

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    2. Thanks for bying the book.

      I talked about my own story in this guest 'blog, but all the stories are great.

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  5. You have hit a nerve with this subject. These books sound amazing!

    It is stomach turning to read about any place in the US where they've changed the rules, closed poling places and made it impossible to just go and vote. This isn't just a southern phenom, it happens anywhere when people begin to feel entitled to their power.

    In Connecticut, as in neighboring Massachusetts, voting is usually a piece of cake. Sometimes, a town or city official will screw up the preparation and that is always a huge scandal, but about incompetence, not deliberate voting rights fraud. Like Hallie, we live in a town where you just waltz in and vote.

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    1. No, it's not just a Southern problem.

      Nor is it limited to one party or the other.

      And even in places where voting is easy, there are still ways to game the system to get the result desired.

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  6. Voting this year is more important than ever, I believe. For the past several years I've been dong absentee ballots, which I had faith were counted. Then lately it occurred to me: there is no way of knowing if they were ever received or counted. Scary thought! I like the convenience of voting that way but probably going to the voting booth is more of a sure thing.

    What gets me, if I even understand it correctly and I'm not sure I do, here in NY with the primaries, it is "winner take all," which in 2016 in my case meant the party didn't go with my guy. Why I am now independent.

    Sounds like the book is full of fascinating stories, bound to make us think!

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    1. Thanks for commenting, Judi.

      At the absolute worst, LDDV-2 is a book full of entertaining crime fiction.

      At its best, it gives you chance to (quoting the Duke), "to hit a lick at what's wrong, and say a word for what's right."

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  7. Remember those recent videos of Georgia voters banging on the doors of polling places to get in? That says it all.
    This sounds amazing! (I am Massachusetts, too, where it is all very easy. I hope.)

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  8. I live in Georgia. Sadly that's all I need to say.
    My husband and I vote absentee to avoid the long lines but many people are denied this right.

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  9. Ha, Jim! Just yesterday, in a whimsical mood, I came up with the name for a new book or a new band: Landslide Lyndon and the Duvall County Voting Dead.

    A friend of mine used to serve as an election judge, and she explained to me a horrifying number of ways people can suppress or supplement the vote when one party or another starts to sweat. Unlike the claims we hear on the news, in-person voter fraud is very rare. What actually happens is more like the case we saw in North Carolina in 2018, where a party operative handed out absentee ballots in a Congressional district, then only turned in the ones that voted for his candidate. They had to hold that election over again.

    We have a primary runoff scheduled for July 14, and I took advantage to vote early this week. It was obvious to me that all those alternative ways to identify myself--passport, water bill, etc.--are basically useless, since my voter information is now electronically encoded on that magnetic strip on my drivers license--making it so much harder for the people who don't have a TXDL, or can't get to a center where they can get one. I had to renew in person this past time and had to take a day off work, drive about 50 miles from home, and wait four hours to get through the line. It was a mess, but at least I got to wait indoors. Now? With social distancing? It's probably a nightmare.

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    1. Kudos.

      You correctly figured out what real-life incident I was fictionalizing.

      The possible ways of gaming the system are truly frightening, aren't they?

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  10. We've all been told lies for the last fifty year or so, haven't we? It's disheartening, for sure.

    Here in Ohio, my county has been pretty stable and reliable, but in the 2000 election the Secretary of State, Ken Blackwell at the time, was also the Republican Party campaign head. It was no coincidence, to me, that several counties had problems with Diebold voting machines that switched voters' choices on them. That's the year I became politically active and hyper aware of how politics works behind the scenes.

    We need a Gus Hachette riding to the rescue, for sure! Congratulations, Jim. I am also going to look for your books. Thanks for being here today.

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    1. Thank you for the kind comments.

      And I hope you enjoy both LDDV-2 and my books, when you get them.

      Looking forward to using Gus in a novel.

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  11. Jim, love the stories of Gus--will be looking for more. And so true, wrestling true life into fiction is a mighty task! I missed LDDV1, so will be searching it out along with LDDV2.

    Here in northern Ohio, a Republican governor and statehouse gerrymandered our voting districts in an attempt to rid Republicans of two excellent Democrats on the federal leve1--but Sherrod Brown and Marcy Kaptur were re-elected in spite of their efforts and continue to serve their constituents no matter how weird (geographically) their districts.

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    1. Thanks for commenting, Flora.

      The first story I wrote about Gus was originally intended for Michael Bracken's anthology of Texas-set PI stories, THE EYES OF TEXAS. It was based on an incident that occurred when Gus's model was working as a field investigator fot the Texas Cattle Ownes' Assn. Didn't finish the story in time to submit, but I've got a tentative acceptance at another venue.

      In the meantime, "The Lord of LaValle," based on the real-life voter fraud case, seemed tailor-made for LDDV-2.

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  12. Congratulations, Jim! That's the wonderful thing about fiction - we can tidy up real life.

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    1. Thanks for commenting, Liz.

      Jack Webb. who's probably the most famous purveyor of "tidied-up real life," used to change things to a surprising degree when he fictionalized actual LAPD cases for DRAGNET.

      The pilot for the original series, aired in 1951, "The Human Bomb," was based on an incident from the '20's. The real-life bomber wanted to blow up the building for political reasons having to do with union contracts for railroad workers. By the time Webb turned it into a radio (and later TV) script, he was just a gangster who wanted to break his brother out of jail. It fit better into a half-hour drama format.

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  13. This November is the first year my boys will both be old enough to vote (they’ll be 18 and 19). Since AZ has always been a mail in state (80% vote by mail) it won’t have the same thrill, I imagine, as going to the voting booth. Still, it makes me furious that voter suppression is an issue. What a timely book! We must be vigilant!

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    1. Congratulations to the Hooligans! I hope they're excited about voting.

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    2. Yes, congrats to the Hooligans!

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    3. Congrats to the Hooligans, Jenn! My Youngest said she was more excited about getting to vote for the first time than she was about graduating from high school! In Maine, if you're going to be 18 and eligible to vote in the November election, you can also vote in the primaries, so she cast her first ballot when she was still 17. I love that law, and love the way it encourages young people to get involved.

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    4. Thanks for taking the time to comment, Jenn.

      Must make you proud to have your two sons doing their part for democracy.

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  14. I certainly remember hearing about the Duke of Duval County and the miracle of dead people voting, although dead voters seem to have appeared in other locations. And gerrymandering seems to be alive and well. Texas politics was always interesting but the years I lived in Louisiana? Wow! Crazy.
    Jim, your story sounds great. Which lawman is Gus based on?

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    1. Hi, Pat,

      Thanks for commenting. You've already sussed out that My "Lord of LaValle" is a fictional counterpart to the real-life Duke of Duval, George Parr, so I guess I might as well 'fess up, and admit that Gus Hachette is modeled on Frank Hamer.

      Hamer's already been used fictionally, in Gene Shelton's novel MANHUNTER, in Marcus Galloway's short story "One Hundred and Two Days" (included in Bob Randisis' anthology LONE STAR LAW), and in the recent award-winning crime movie THE HIGHWAYMEN, in which he's played by Kevin Costner.

      In case I was able to develop my character into a series, I wanted a little more wiggle room than calling the character Frank Hamer would've given me, so I transposed his first and middle names "Francis Ausgustine," and substituted an alternate spelling for "hatchet" for real-life's alternate spelling of "hammer."

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  15. Hi Jim, and welcome! I've read about the LDDV books and am going to check them out--what a great cause. As a Texan, I'm certainly no stranger to gerrymandering and other forms of voter suppression. And our state Supreme Court has ruled that we will not be allowed to vote by mail, even with Covid-19. I'm looking forward to reading about Gus!

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    1. Thanks for commenting, Deborah.

      It is a good cause.

      No state's free of dirty politics.

      Texas does it in a big way because Texas does everything, the good and the bad, in a big way.

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  16. Hallie, great post!

    Jim, welcome to Jungle Reds and I want to read your book. Are they a collection of short stories?

    In some places, there are still attempts at voter suppression. When I went to vote in person about 10 years ago, I think one person tried to stop me from voting. Since then, I have voted by mail. It is easier for me to send in my ballot.

    Right now the evils are trying to close the Post Office and many good people are working very hard to SAVE the post office so we can vote by mail.

    Diana

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    1. I didn't even put together efforts to shut down the postal service and voter suppression.

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    2. Thanks for commenting.

      LDDV and LDDV-2 are both anthologies of short stories by different authors, both edited by Mysti Berry.

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    3. Hallie, sorry I am confused.

      Jim, thanks!

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  17. I am glad to see this post, Hallie, and grateful to all of the people out there working to encourage high voter turnout, whether they are working on voter registration drives or lobbying their elected officials to expand voting by mail. Voting is critical to having a functional democracy.

    Here in Maine need-no-reason absentee voting has been the norm for years. I voted by mail weeks ago in our primary, which will take place next week. It is such an easy and secure way to make sure your vote counts.

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    2. Brenda, thanks for commenting.

      Voter suppression isn't the only tactic.

      There are all kinds of ways to subvert the electoral process. Ballots can be "lost." Suddenly "dsicovered." Wrongly declared "ineligible." Etc.

      And neither party has clean hands.

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  18. I've never thought much about it before. Voting is so simple here. Go to the library, everyone knows each other so they don't even have to ask your name, they just check you off on their list. Hand you a pencil and ballot, go in the booth, fill it out and you're done. The entire process takes less than 5 minutes.

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    1. We take it so much for granted. But even when it's made simple, there are still ways to subvert the process.

      And that's leaving aside the fact that so many eligible voters don't even bother to vote.

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  19. Like Brenda, I've already voted by mail in the Maine primary. I never thought about the fact our state was one where anyone can request a mail-in ballot, but I'm sure grateful for it now!

    The idea of voting by mail has been, sadly, heavily politicized, but, like getting involved in local politics or volunteering to man the polling places, it's something can affects Democrats and Republicans alike. Voting by mail is a terrific boon to older folks, who tend to go conservative, as well to "Lunchbox Republicans" (remember that phrase from the Reagan years?) who are working blue-collar jobs with, perhaps, irregular hours. And of course, it's fantastic for couples with small kids - for years, Ross and I had to vote serially, first one going to the town hall, then the other, so we had coverage for the kiddos.

    To address Jim's story, his character Gus Hachette sounds utterly compelling. Using an amazing real-life lawman as the inspiration for a mystery (or several) reminds me of the Kopp Sister series by Amy Stewart, one of my faves. I'll have to track down (pun intended) Jim's stories!

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    1. Yes, I thought of Amy Stewart's the Kopp Sisters, too.

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    2. Julia,

      Thank you for the comparison. I'm very flattered. I'm a fan of Kopp sisters novels, as I my wife, Katy.

      I'm also working on a stage play based on the Edgar-winning autobiography of another top cop, Harold R. "Dan" Danforth, a DA's investigator who was the top undercover man for racket-busting prosecutor Thomas Dewey, back in the days of Dutch Schultz, Lepke Buchlater, and Lucky Luciano.

      Danforth's book, THE D.A.'s MAN, won the Edgar for Best Fact Crime of 1957. It's the only autobiographical "cop memoir" ever to win in that category.

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    3. I also thought of Constance Kopp this morning! And her wonderful Sheriff Heath, who was so instrumental in boosting her career.

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