Many years ago, back in the early 1970s, I had grown up
in a conservative Republican home, in our neighborhood around
Frankford Stadium on Wakeling Street, the 23rd Ward, 9th
Division. Though we were raised that way, to tell the truth I
liked the personalities on the other side of the political
fence more in our neighborhood. Bill Green, III, living 2
blocks down from us on Wakeling Street, was still serving in
Congress. Timmy Savage was still just a Democratic
Committeeman and Ward Leader, decades away from becoming the
federal judge down on Market Street. Timmy’s wife Linda was a
But politics is politics, and anyone who has ever been
involved in The System will tell you that politics is a very
crazy thing. And it was, that, very much, then — even
in quiet little 23rd Ward, 9th Division in Frankford.
I think that because I was viewed as a “young egghead,”
at a particular point the “Reps” asked me to run for Judge
of Elections in our little voting district, a 2-day-a-year
job, on Election Day in November and in the Spring
primaries. I had worked at the corner store for years in
our neighborhood. I was a lector at Mass in St. Martin’s
Church on Oxford Circle. So, I was popular, and so
unfortunately I won the election. On election days, we’d
get up at 5:00 a.m., shower, eat, and rush down to Frankford
High School where voting occurred. I always wondered, as
we moved the voting machines into position and opened them
up, what kind of bizarre thing would happen that day which
would get my Fruit of the Looms all knotted-up.
THAT ONE SOCIALIST WORKERS PARTY VOTE
Every year, all of us on both sides of the political
fence, Committeemen, poll watchers, Inspectors of Election and
I, the Judge of Elections, were mystified by one particular
vote cast in every election — for any Socialist Workers
Party candidate on the ballot. Who, among our neighbors, in
the conservative 9th Division, was the one person who
consistently voted for the Socialist Workers Party candidate?
None of us had any idea at all. It just didn’t suit
anyone we knew in the 9th Division.
Until finally something happened which enabled me to solve the mystery.
America, the Great Melting Pot, features immigrants from
all over the world. One of the immigrant families in our
section of Frankford were from Germany. The husband and
wife, both born in Northern Germany around 1905 or so,
married just as Adolph Hitler was coming to power amidst the
social chaos in Germany in the mid-1930s. The wife had
liked Herr Hitler, but the husband saw what was coming,
forgave his wife’s inclinations, and grabbed her and her
sister and packed their bags and got out of Germany “while
the going was good.” They managed to get processed out
of Nazi Germany and approved for immigration to America,
through the American Embassy in Berlin, and moved to
America — specifically, to a house over on Allengrove Street
near Rutland Street, here in Frankford. As we grew up in
Frankford and got to know our neighbors, those folks from
Germany would pay me to care for their lawn. During breaks,
the wife would serve me lemonade, and tell me the story of
their migration from Germany in heavily-accented English. She
always finished by saying, “Adolph Hitler wasn’t a bad man.
He was just misunderstood. And the Nazis beneath him did do
bad things — but not Hitler!” The husband smiled at his
wife’s attempts to evangelize me over to her extreme way of
thinking about Hitler. He could tell that I knew too much
about Hitler, even as a kid, and that she was having no
Years later, while I was Judge of Elections, the German
wife died — and suddenly the one vote for the Socialist
Workers Party candidates cast every year in the 23rd Ward,
9th Division, vanished.
And I realized with a shock that I had identified the
mysterious Socialist Workers Party voter — the German wife.
The name for Adolph Hitler’s political movement, Nazism,
was derived from an abbreviation of the German term for
Hitler’s National Socialist Party,
The German wife, in her naïve comprehension of American
politics, must have become convinced, because of the word
“Socialist” in “Socialist Workers Party,” that they stood
for the same thing as Hitler’s Nazi movement! — kind of
like conservative Barry Goldwater voting for a leftist
because his name was “Wright”!
THE DEMOCRATS WHO WROTE-IN THE REPUBLICAN
One of the issues that arose in election after election was
the write-in sticker controversy. On the old mechanical
Shoup voting machines, write-in candidates were voted-for by
opening a slot at the top of the machine and, using a pen,
writing the candidate’s name on the paper in the slot.
Generally, most of the controversy at the polling place
centered around these write-ins. I threw-out initials on the
write-in paper roll as too ambiguous. I threw-out write-in
votes in the “dead columns” — columns not dedicated to a
particular political office — because casting a write-in
vote in a “dead column,” which should have been locked shut
but wasn’t, meant that someone could have voted for the same
candidate twice, once by pulling a switch, and again by
writing in his name behind a door that should have been
locked-out, but wasn’t. I otherwise counted
correctly-cast-but-misspelled write-ins, every time. Not
counting misspelled name write-ins would mean that a
congressional candidate with a last name like “Neugebauer” or
“Frelinghuysen” could never defeat a congressional candidate
with a last name like “Green” in a closely-contested election
coming down to the number of write-in votes received.
One of the really bizarre controversies arose in a hotly
contested Democratic primary election for the Commonwealth
Legislature. For the sake of convenience, we used to have
two “Democratic machines” and one “Republican machine” on
Primary day — the Republicans always ran unopposed, so that
fewer Republicans voted, but there was typically a battle
among the Democrats. Splitting the machines between parties
on Primary Day enabled us to calculate votes in our division
in minutes. Our votes were always among the first votes
In the case of that hotly contested Democratic Primary,
when we opened-up the back of the Democratic Shoup machines
to do the count, we all froze. There, on the write-in roll
on the Democratic machines, were a total of 27 write-in
votes for the Republican primary candidate. We all thought,
“Why do that? It doesn’t make sense. The Republican is
unopposed in his primary. Of one is a Democrat who wants to
vote for a Republican, just vote for him at the General
Election in November.”
Timmy Savage was inclined to count the votes, I think to
avoid hurting the feelings of the 27 Democratic Party
neighbors who cast that strange vote.
But I stared and stared and stared at the rear of the machine, thinking.
All of a sudden, I ran around to the side of the machine and checked the total vote counter.
The total-number-of-votes counter was exactly 27 votes too low.
In other words, the total number of times one Democratic
candidate or the other was voted for by pulling a lever
exactly equaled the counter on the side.
But none of the 27 times the write-in door would have had
to have been opened to cast Democratic write-in votes for
the Republican candidate in the Democratic Primary were
registered by the vote counter on the side of the machine.
I said, “I am hereby ruling that all 27 write-in votes
must be thrown out. The write-in door should have been
locked-out all 27 times it was opened, because a lever was
also pulled all 27 times a write-in was cast. It is apparent
that all 27 votes were cast by 27 Democrats who voted
twice, once for a Democrat, and a second time for the
Republican as a write-in.”
Both sides quietly agreed: No one wanted to investigate
whether to prosecute 27 Democratic neighbors for voting fraud
by illegally voting twice, once for a Democrat, for a
Years later, when I was taking the Frankford El into Center
City Philadelphia to work at the DA’s Office under Ed
Rendell, the former Republican Committeeman saw me on the
train and walked over to me, to reminisce. He said,
“Pete, I remember that time I got 27 neighbors who were
registered Democrat to vote twice in a way that embarrassed
the main Democratic candidate — once by pulling the switch
for his Democratic opponent, and again by opening the write-in
door which we secretly fixed to not lock-out at the
warehouse, so that they could vote for the Republican. We
sure fooled you!”
I said, “Sorry, but I threw out all 27 write-ins for our
guy, Gil. I deduced that all 27 people must have voted
twice, and I found out that the write-in door on both
Democratic Shoup machines had been rigged. The Democrats that
night did not want to prosecute 27 Democratic neighbors for
voter fraud, and the Republican poll watchers did not want
to be seen demanding the prosecution of all 27 neighbors.
So, we didn’t ask you to identify them. But we threw their
votes out. No matter what, Gil, you involved 27 neighbors in
a criminal act. You really shouldn’t have done that. You
could have hurt a lot of people.” By this time he was
beet-red. (Though this happened exactly as I tell the story, I
have to say that that now-deceased Committeeman was a good,
good man who raised his kids in a decent, loving household.
One son, on 9-11, was last seen heroically trying to lead
people out of the World Trade Center, moments before it
THE STICKERS IN THE BOTTOM OF THE MACHINE
A similar controversy arose in a General Election.
Sometimes, candidates handed-out stickers to be stuck on the
write-in paper roll. If, as the paper roll automatically
rolls itself up, a sticker falls off, because the
sticker was found at the bottom of the machine, and glue
from the sticker was visible on the paper roll where it had
been stuck by the voter, we would count it — otherwise a
voting-system peculiarity — the re-rolling of the write-in
paper roll in the machine — was depriving people of the
write to vote.
But in one General Election, no stickers at all stuck to
the paper roll, because each had almost no glue, or no glue
at all, on them.
And, there were dozens and dozens and dozens of the
glueless paper stickers lying on the bottom of the machine.
Both Committeemen looked at me, puzzled. They asked, “How
are you going to rule on these???” There were enough
stickers on the bottom of the machine to defeat both
candidates represented by switch pulls.
And then I noticed that only one machine had stickers in
the bottom, and I suddenly realized what must have happened. I
ran around to the back of the one Shoup machine, and had
the two committeeman watch me as I removed the paper roll,
and measured the used-up portion. One vote. Only one voter
had opened the write-in door, and therefore only one voter,
familiar with our practice of counting fallen stickers, had
slipped the dozens of stickers lacking glue into the machine,
apparently to make it look like that dozens of voters had
cast write-ins for that candidate..
I ruled that we had to throw-out all but one write-in vote.
THE BATTLE OF THE EXPLODING VOTING MACHINES
In one of his Primary runs as a Presidential candidate —
the fourth one, I think, in 1972 — George Wallace had
poll watchers at polling places throughout the United States.
The watchers in the 23rd Ward, 9th Division — two young,
well-groomed, well-dressed blond-haired guys, yelling this,
objecting to that, all day long. They were extremely
aggressive. I quietly nicknamed them “the two
goose-steppers” to the Election Board members and
committeemen, who laughed.
Early in the morning, on that extremely busy day, as
crowds of neighbors came in to vote for Presidential candidates
for the various parties, neighbor after neighbor came in
with a serious and concerned look on their face and asked,
“Is it true that 4 machines have exploded here today, and
that if I vote for a candidate for my Party, the machine
I thought, “These people are adults! How can they be this
naive?” But it was a busy day, and person after person after
person after person was coming up to me, worried that the
machine might explode. I thought, “I can tell from what
they are saying that it is the two ‘goose-steppers’ outside
saying this! This is getting too much work!”
So, I called one of my brothers, and had him bring in
scotch tape and a stack of photostats saying, “NO, NONE OF
THESE VOTING MACHINES WILL EVER EXPLODE, REGARDLESS OF WHO
YOU VOTE FOR!”
As I began to tape up the signs inside the polling place,
so that I could get some work done, Timmy Savage and the
Republican Committeewoman Frances Novak burst out laughing.
But then, we entered the Twilight Zone.
The two George Wallace poll watchers came stomping-in,
screaming, “WHO PUT THOSE SIGNS UP???!!! NO SIGNS ARE
ALLOWED IN THE POLLING PLACE! TAKE THEM DOWN!” I quietly
refused, saying that the signs “took no one’s side,
politically. They are ‘housekeeping.’”
The “goose-steppers” ran out. One-half hour later,
Congressman Bill Green, an Assistant District attorney, two
policeman brandishing handcuffs and guns, and a representative
of the Committee of Seventy burst into the polling place,
screaming, “WHO PUT UP THOSE SIGNS???!!! WHO PUT UP THOSE
SIGNS???!!!” Timmy Savage was astonished and ashamed to see
Bill Green at the head of this embarrassing parade.
Clearly, Congressman Green had been bamboozled by the two
Wallace pollwatchers into thinking that others — not they,
themselves — were playing games with the voting process.
Timmy walked over to them and said, “Bill, calm down. You
clearly have been misinformed about what’s going on, here.”
But the “goose-steppers” pointed at me, the police grabbed
me and began to cuff me, while the Assistant District Attorney
began to read the Miranda Warnings to me!
Timmy Savage couldn’t take it. “BILL!,” he screamed at
Congressman Green, “PETE’S HONEST! LEAVE HIM ALONE! HE’S A GOOD
MAN! HE’S A GOOD MAN! HE’S HONEST! COME OUTSIDE AND LET
ME EXPLAIN WHAT HAS BEEN GOING ON ALL MORNING!” Congressman
Green was shocked by Timmy’s yelling, and he finally paid
attention to him.
So, they adjourned to outside the polling place. One-half
hour later Timmy came back in and said, “Pete, we entered
onto an agreement. Your signs come down. But the
Wallace poll watchers have to stay outside. And they have
pledged to stop telling people that the machines will explode.”
And that was the end of that ridiculous controversy. And
no one else came in and asked if a voting machine would