Dead Presidents

Historical facts, thoughts, ramblings and collections on the Presidency and about the Presidents of the United States.

By Anthony Bergen
Posts tagged "Election Day"

On November 8, 1960, millions of Americans went to the polls in what would become one of the closest Presidential elections in American History:  John Fitzgerald Kennedy versus Richard Milhous Nixon.

That morning, Kennedy voted in Boston and Nixon voted in Whittier, California.  The candidates had spent months canvassing the nation, working to get every last vote — and every last vote was needed.  For the past several weeks, Kennedy and Nixon had criss-crossed the country, debated one another, and been working non-stop to be elected the 35th President of the United States.

After they voted that day, there were results to monitor, precincts to watch, election day problems to take care of, and many other things to worry about.  Imagine being on the cusp of the Presidency — with a 50/50 chance of being elected the next President of a superpower in the grip of the Cold War, with the threat of Communism and nuclear weapons hanging over your head, and the hopes of hundreds of millions of people pinned on either your victory or defeat.  Imagine being in the position of John F. Kennedy or Richard Nixon on November 8, 1960.  What would you do? 

John F. Kennedy put the control of his campaign in the hands of his younger brother, Bobby, and then took a nap.

And Richard Nixon took a road trip to Mexico.

Once Nixon voted that morning at a private home in a quiet Whittier neighborhood, he had been scheduled to head to the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles (where Bobby Kennedy would be assassinated eight years later) for the Election Day vigil and the long wait for the returns which would indicate whether he would be moving into the White House or facing an early retirement. 

Nixon was finished voting by 8:00 AM and hopped into his black Cadillac limousine to be driven to the Ambassador.  Several blocks away from the polling place, Nixon ordered the limousine to stop.  Along with a military aide and a Secret Service agent, Nixon jumped out of the limo and into a white convertible follow-up car driven by an officer from the Los Angeles Police Department.  Nixon took the LAPD officer’s place, got behind the wheel and ditched the press which had been following him.

Driving to La Habra, California, Nixon made a quick visit with his mother, making sure she had voted for her son in the Presidential election.  Nixon drove south along the Pacific Coast Highway, with no specific destination.  He stopped for gasoline in Oceanside and told a gas station attendant — startled to see the Vice President of the United States on a joyride on the very day that he stood for election as President — “I’m just out for a little ride.”  Nixon confided that it was his only source of relaxation.

As the group of four men, with Nixon in the driver’s seat, reached San Diego — over two hours away from Nixon’s campaign headquarters at L.A.’s Ambassador Hotel — Nixon pointed out that he hadn’t been to Tijuana in at least 25 years.

As David Pietrusza wrote in his recap of Nixon’s road trip, “Richard Nixon — the ultimate control freak — was winging it on the most important day of his life.”  Not only that, but the sitting Vice President of the United States and the man who many Americans were choosing to become the next President, impulsively decided to leave the entire country while those voters were still at the polls.

In Tijuana, Nixon and his party headed to a restaurant called Old Heidelberg.  Despite the fact it was owned by a German, Border Patrol agents told Nixon that it was the best place in Tijuana for Mexican food.  Joined at the last moment by Tijuana’s Mayor, Xicotencati Leyva Aleman, Nixon, his military aide, a Secret Service agent, and an average LAPD officer ate enchiladas in Mexico while John F. Kennedy took a nap in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts.

When Nixon’s press secretary Herb Klein was asked about the missing candidate, he had to tell reporters that Nixon often took some private moments on hectic days such as Election Day.  Really, though, Klein had no clue where Nixon was, eventually admitting that the Vice President was “driving around without any destination”. 

After lunch in Tijuana, Nixon and his companions headed back north towards the United States border crossing.  The LAPD officer took over driving duties as Nixon sat in the convertible’s passenger seat.  A shocked Border Patrol guard shook hands with the Vice President and asked the man who was currently on the ballot for the Presidency, “Are you all citizens of the United States?”.

Nixon and company drove to the Mission of San Juan Capistrano, which Nixon called “one of my favorite Catholic places” on the day he faced the only successful Catholic candidate for the Presidency in American History.  Nixon took his three companions on a quick, informal tour of the Mission.  “For a few minutes, we sat in the empty pews for an interlude of complete escape,” Nixon later recalled.

The missing candidate and his three road trip buddies arrived back in Los Angeles before the election results started rolling in.  Nixon had to explain his trip to reporters who had been searching for him all day.  “It wasn’t planned.  We just started driving and that’s where we wound up.”

In his Memoirs, Nixon didn’t go too far into explaining why he escaped on Election Day, but a paragraph about that day is pretty illuminating:

After one last frenetic week, it was over.  Since the convention in August I had traveled over 65,000 miles and visited all fifty states.  I had made 180 scheduled speeches and delivered scores of impromptu talks and informal press conferences.  There was nothing more I could have done.

Except escape to Mexico while JFK slept.

It’s really tough. They are the longest hours of your life. You are so tired. You just want the goddamned thing over. The most grueling campaign was 1960 because of the mistake I made with the 50-state strategy…In ‘68, I just drove around on Election Day. The day is the worst because there isn’t a goddamn thing you can do. I watched people drive by, and I thought, ‘How many of these people did I reach?’ You really wonder because inside you are paralyzed with worry. You want to think that all of the effort was worth something to somebody.

Richard Nixon, to Monica Crowley, on what goes through a Presidential candidate’s mind on Election Day, October 30, 1992

Asker Anonymous Asks:
Canadian here. Why is it that that when an election is held in the US, every jurisdiction seems to have theirs at the same time? Does everything show up on one ballot paper?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

Wait a second…where’s the bouncer?  There’s no Canadians allowed here.  (Before a bunch of people from Saskatchewan announce that they are unfollowing me, I’m kidding.)

Honestly, Election Day is the first Tuesday in November for most positions because it makes sense financially.  I believe that Presidential and Congressional elections are the only ones actually mandated by law to take place on the first Tuesday in November, but for state-level positions and local-level positions it just makes sense to hold elections on the same day because elections are expensive events to have.  Plus, ideally, it would be awesome to have as many voters get out to the polls as possible, so it’s less confusing to have all elections take place on the same day every year.

Now, that’s not to say that there aren’t elections that take place on other dates.  Even if you take away primary elections, which normally take place early in the year of the general election (and those primary election dates differ from state-to-state), state and local elections can also be held at different times of year.  It’s up to the state or local municipality that has jurisdiction over the election.  (And that’s not even taken into consideration early voting or absentee balloting, which also differs throughout the country depending on your location.)  

As for the ballots, well, that can be confusing, too.  There is no uniform ballot for federal, state, or local elections.  That’s usually different from county-to-county, depending on the state.  Not only that, but the means for registering differs from state-to-state.  And the actual WAY that you vote is different from one locality to another.  In California, where I voted for 12 years, there are counties that have computer stations to fill out ballots, punch cards, manual ballots where you fill in a bubble like you’re taking a test, and other types of voting equipment.  It all depends where you live.

You want to know what a crazy Election Day was?  In 2003, when I lived in California, there was an election to decide whether to recall Governor Gray Davis — the election that resulted in Arnold Schwarzenegger becoming Governor.  So, the first decision on the ballot was to vote “Yes” or “No” on recalling Governor Davis (I voted “No”).  The second decision was to vote for a candidate for Governor to replace Governor Davis if the recall succeeded.  Now, even if you voted “No” to recall Davis, you could still choose a potential successor.  Because the recall was a goddamn circus there were 135 candidates for Governor to choose from — all on one ballot.  That’s right…ONE HUNDRED AND THIRTY-FIVE candidates.  Take that, Canada.

I’m pretty sure that I don’t remember what it’s like to not live in the midst of an all-encompassing political campaign.  Then again, considering how campaigns seem to begin earlier and earlier in 21st Century American politics, I wouldn’t be surprised if the midterm cycle kicks off this afternoon.

(P.S.: I better not see stories about potential 2016 Presidential candidates until AT LEAST Inauguration Day.  In a perfect world, we’d be safe from starting that discussion until late-2014.)

229 plays
Marvin Gaye,
The Master (1961-1984) (Disc 4)

Marvin Gaye: The Star-Spangled Banner (Live at the 1983 NBA All-Star Game)


On this day, throughout our nation, something remarkable will take place.  The fact that it happens quadrennially does not diminish its wonder.  In fact, the longer the tradition continues and the more often that it occurs as expected and as designed makes it seem something like a miracle; like an extraordinary experiment that perpetuates itself peacefully and successfully despite the flaws of humanity and the blemishes of our stubborn beliefs.

Across the country, Americans like you and me; men and women; old and young; Democrat, Republican, Independents, and undecideds will stand in lines at churches, in firehouses, in school cafeterias, in community centers built for the public and the normally private garages of local volunteers.  All of the campaigning, the signs, the bumper stickers, the television ads, the newspaper headlines, the e-mails seeking donations, and the chatter with friends, family, and co-workers will be silenced as we step into a polling place and take our ballots.  Some of us will poke holes in paper, some will fill in bubbles like an elementary school quiz, and some will use high-tech touch screens.  What we all will do, however, is participate.  We will make a choice.

That doesn’t seem like it should be all that amazing, does it?  Making a choice?  Yet, it is.  It’s a privilege that Americans are able to claim as a right.  It’s something that many people around the world can’t imagine doing.  It’s a right and privilege that some people still alive today — gray-haired and stooped but very much alive — had to march against hatred and ignorance to gain access to.  Because of where we were born and where we live, we have the ability to make choices today that will have a significant impact on each of our lives.  That is not only a privilege and a right, but a special responsibilty that we have a duty to fulfill.

After all of the money and energy spent on the campaign for President of the United States, the seemingly endless campaigns reach the finish line today.  The candidates have dominated our lives for nearly two years in the most expensive and most visible Presidential campaign in American history.  Yet, this one ends exactly like the 56 Presidential campaigns that preceded it — with people like you and me making a choice.

Despite the divisive nature of politics, we go to the polls today because “politics” is not really a dirty word.  Instead, it’s the system we use to find solutions.  As fractured as our nation is, there is something unifying in the collective act of streaming into polling places across the continent and making the choice we believe is best for our country.  Tense disagreements and heightened emotions are calmed by the singular majesty of millions of individual Americans exercising their right, responsibility, and privilege of voting.  The loud arguments, the angry words, and the destructive vitriol hurled at political opponents in debates, on cable news networks, and on partisan internet sites is quieted by the dignified power of casting your ballot.

Our country has many problems and our political leaders can be difficult, disappointing, and seemingly defeatist, but that’s why there is such beauty in what we do today. 

Yes, there is something beautiful and inspiring about Election Day, and it is us.

On another Election Day — Super Tuesday, February 5, 2008, which seems like a lifetime ago — then-Senator Barack Obama told a crowd of supporters, “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.  We are the change that we seek.”  Whether you support President Obama or Governor Romney, that is still the case.  There have been a lot of problems in the United States of America lately, and there will continue to be problems tomorrow.  But today is the day where we can start solving those problems.  The solution lies with us.  We have the power to change things and set things right because that amazing privilege/right/responsibility — the ability to make a choice — belongs to us. 

For all of the ugliness we see and experience in this country, there is definitely beauty and bliss in the ballot.  We can continue to scream at one another and cast shadows over our nation’s future because of petty political differences, or we can make righteous choices that benefit the most Americans possible.  We can choose leaders who seek solutions rather than those who think our political system is based around a scoreboard and that they only win if the other side loses.  The American experiment is a not a competition between liberals and conservatives, so on this day where we continue our remarkable history of peacefully making important choices, let’s remember that our country doesn’t progress unless we all move forward together. 

Choices are marvelous things.  Whether you see your ability to make a choice as a privilege, a right, or a responsibility, remember that it is also a gift of power.  Use that power.  Make a choice, make a difference, go vote, and let’s move our nation forward.  Together.