When Elections are in Doubt

The electoral process throughout American history has run its course with only a few major issues in the past 240 years. The 1876 presidential election has been used as the historical yardstick in determining the good and bad of the election process. After a hard fought campaign between Rutherford B. Hayes and Samuel J. Tilden, the final election results brought widespread charges of voter fraud coming from both candidates. Eventually, Congress stepped into the electoral process and selected an electoral commission charged with the task of “selecting” a president. There was great concern that the partisans of the losing candidate might revolt, so Federal troops were activated in Washington, D.C. and in other large metropolitan areas throughout the country. Eventually, a president was selected and the fear of popular agitation subsided and America resumed its political stability.

During the presidential election of 1916, the alarm was raised that there might be the need for voter recounts. But, the specter of the president election of 1876 loomed large in the minds of politicians and candidates.

The article below from Frank Leslie’s Weekly broaches the possibility of a vote recall in the final results of the Presidential Election of 1916. It cites the various issues that had been raised during the 1876 election.

Researchers interested in the history of America’s political process and the role of popular activism will find Frank Leslie’s Weekly a treasure trove off unique information covering many phases of America’s political and popular legacies.



Frank Leslies Weekly, November 23, 1916

Frank Leslies Weekly, November 23, 1916

As soon as it was claimed that President Wilson had been re-elected by a narrow margin, it was proposed to contest the result in several States that went for him by small pluralities,
notably California, Minnesota, New Mexico and North Dakota. The Democrats also threatened to demand a recount in several States that went Republican. This recalls the election of 1876 when contests were inaugurated in Oregon, Louisiana, Florida and South Carolina. The matter was taken before Congress, as provided by law, and an Electoral Commission of 15 members was appointed. The Commissioners decided every point strictly on party lines, and as the Republicans had a majority of one, the Presidency was given to Rutherford B. Hayes. This award was ratified by the Senate, which was Republican, but not by the House, which was Democratic. As the agreement was that the decision of the Commission should stand unless rejected by both Houses of Congress, Mr. Hayes became President on March 4, 1877, two days after the final decision was rendered. Many people still believe that the Presidency rightly belonged to his rival, Samuel J. Tilden.

Frank Leslie’s Weekly, published from 1855 to 1922, was an American illustrated news publication started by publisher and illustrator Frank Leslie. While only 30 copies of the first edition were printed, by 1897 its circulation had grown to an estimated 65,000 copies.
In the present case there are no charges of wholesale fraud, such as were freely made during the Hayes -Tilden election. The worst that is alleged is that errors may have been made in the count. In 1876 feeling ran high, and riots and disorder resulted in many places.

The procedure to be followed is that the electors of each State shall meet on the second Monday in January following the election and give their votes for President and Vice-President. These votes should be counted in the House of Representatives on the second Wednesday in February.

Frank Leslie’s Weekly, December 9, 1876

Frank Leslie’s Weekly, December 9, 1876

The law gives each State the right to determine who have been properly chosen as its electors. Congress now has nothing to do with election contests, except that, both houses concurring, it may throw out any votes that have not been cast by properly chosen electors. A majority of all the electoral votes is required to elect a president; in this case 266. Twice the electors have not been able to make a choice because the votes have been so divided among three or more candidates that no one had a majority. In such cases the choice rests with the House of Representatives.

In case of a tie vote in the Electoral College the president would be chosen by a vote of the House of Representatives, each State delegation having one vote. It has occasioned comment that in such an emergency the present House would choose Mr. Hughes, though it is strongly Democratic, because a majority of the State delegations are Republican. This year there is no possibility of any contest, except over the results in certain States, and such contests will in all probability be decided by the States and not reach Congress.

Source: Frank Leslies Weekly, November 23, 1916
First image: Frank Leslie’s Weekly, November 23, 1916
Second image: Frank Leslie’s Weekly, December 9, 1876

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