The 5 Most Insane Elections In US History (Before This One)
2016 will undoubtedly go down as one of the most bizarre election years in American history. No matter what your political leanings are, you can't help but wonder how our options came down to Dystopian Future Biff Tannen and Pantsuit Lady MacBeth. But this isn't even close to the dumbest, craziest, most spectacularly corrupt election America has dealt with. For example...
The U.S. Congressman Who Could Only Come Outside On Sundays
Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, who served from 1945-1971 as the House representative for Harlem, was notable for a few reasons. He was one of the first African Americans elected to Congress, he made great strides in the early quest for civil rights, and he ultimately proved as cocky and difficult to get rid of as the Caddyshack gopher.
A clip from his acceptance speech.
Powell was notoriously tardy with his taxes -- by which we mean that the federal government went after him for unpaid taxes starting in the early '50s. They upped their game in 1963, when Powell lost a slander lawsuit against an old lady he'd bafflingly accused of running bribes, and refused to pay that settlement as well. In 1965, a judge finally ordered Powell to be held in contempt, and issued an arrest warrant. But due to a rule in New York that warrants couldn't be served on Sundays, Powell simply went into hiding six days a week, only appearing in public on Sundays. A fed up House of Representatives eventually decided to kick his ass out, and a special election was held to replace him in Congress. After the votes were counted, the winner, by a whopping 86 percent, was ... Adam Clayton Powell.
Democracy having spoken loud and clear, Powell was readmitted to Congress. But instead of showing up to work, he threw up both middle fingers and moved to the Bahamas for the duration of his term, keeping his full salary while doing nothing but smoking cigars, gambling, and chilling with exotic dancers.
So the same perks of Congress, then.
New York went back to the polls in 1968, and again elected Powell to another term. Exasperated, the House stripped Powell of his seniority and fined him for misusing travel expenses. Powell responded by suing Congress, and winning. According to Powell, "My people would elect me ... even if I had to be propped up in my casket." In 1970, Powell finally lost an election, by a mere 150 votes. Soon afterward he died of cancer, and Congress breathed a sigh of relief. Then his eyes popped open and the violins wailed before cutting straight to credits.
The State Senate Candidate Who Almost Won An Election By Murdering His Opponent
State senate elections are generally low key. Such positions are more or less open to whoever wants them, as candidates frequently run unopposed. This was the case for the 15th District of the Tennessee Senate in the 1998 election. Voters had only one choice on the ballot: a former county tax assessor named Byron (Low Tax) Looper. And yes, that was his real name -- he had his middle name legally changed from Anthony to "(Low Tax)," awkward parentheses and all. By way of foreshadowing, the man was a little crazy.
And a lot murdery.
During his time as a humble county tax assessor, Looper managed to rack up a ridiculous list of investigations against him. But even with indictments hanging over his head, he still had aspirations of being a state senator. The only problem was that someone was already running for the position: incumbent senator Tommy Burks.
Looper could have done the democratic thing and run a fair campaign against his opponent, but he went for option B instead. He drove down to Burks' farm with a Smith & Wesson and, in his own alleged words, "busted a cap in that dude's head."
Which matched the hole Looper had in his own.
Having left an absurd amount of evidence behind, as well as a powerful and extremely public motive, Loopy Looper was quickly arrested and thrown in jail awaiting trial. And yet he was still on his way to winning the senate seat. Dead men can't run for government positions. Looper, not yet convicted of a felony, was still eligible, even from jail. It was a plan as technically flawless as it was stunningly idiotic.
Thankfully, he lost after both the Republicans and Democrats came together in a rare truce and launched a massive write-in campaign for Tommy Burks's widow, Charlotte Burks, who won in a landslide. Looper was convicted and sentenced to life in prison, ultimately dying there in 2013. Oh, and Charlotte Burks served in the Tennessee State Senate until 2015.
America Elected A President Who Never Even Bothered To Vote
In 1848, America elected a president purely on the strength of how many Mexicans he had killed. In the Battle of Buena Vista during the Mexican-American war, a 4,500-strong U.S. army led by General Zachary Taylor turned a Mexican army of over 15,000 into a smoking crater, courtesy of heavy artillery barrages. The glorious victory made Taylor insanely popular overnight, and the American people were practically begging Taylor to run for president.
Knowing how to dodge bullets on horseback was a Constitutional presidential prerequisite until the Model T was invented.
The thing was, Taylor was so uninterested in politics that he'd never even voted before. Whatever policies he did have were vague and subject to change. Making him president because of his role in the Mexican-American war was like making Christopher Nolan president because Inception was, like, really good.
The Whig Party, who were the Democrats' main opposition before the Republican Party was formed, ran Taylor as their candidate, and he took the unusual approach of running without a platform. Or a campaign. This turned out to be a pretty good idea, because with no clue as to what Taylor stood for, most people wound up assuming that he agreed with them. Many in the South guessed Taylor was pro-slavery, pro-states' rights, and anti-tariff, while many Northerners assumed he wanted to preserve the Union.
During the campaign, he uttered no gaffes. Or anything else.
As a result of his ingenious "don't say or do anything" strategy, Taylor wound up strolling right into the presidency. Which doesn't say much for the strength of his opposition. Then Taylor got sick and died a year into his presidency, after achieving everything he set out to do, which was *grunt and shrugging gesture*.
Pennsylvania Elects The Wrong Guy (Twice)
It's a sad truth in American politics that your name is usually more important than your policies. Especially if you live in Pennsylvania and that name is Bob Casey. Robert P. Casey was Pennsylvania's Auditor General from 1968 to 1976, at which point he left the office. That year, the state held an election for State Treasurer, and Bob Casey was on the ballot -- but it wasn't the same guy. This was Robert E. Casey, an unrelated nobody who ran for the position, possibly on a drunken dare.
Although he did almost no campaigning and spent only around $1,000, the counterfeit Bob Casey wound up sweeping the election away from the much more qualified Democratic candidate.
Pictured: Bob Casey. We're not sure which one.
That's the kind of gimmick that only works once.
Unless, again, you're a Bob "Might As Well Run" Casey. In 1978, the very next election, a third Bob Casey won the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor against 13 opponents. This Casey was a schoolteacher and ice cream salesman. To make things more confusing, one of the people he was running against -- and defeated -- was Robert P. Casey. The real one.
After two embarrassing cases of mistaken identity, Pennsylvanians started holding their Bob Caseys up to the light to check for watermarks. The original Casey eventually made a successful run for governor in 1986 under the slogan "The Real Bob Casey."
Pennsylvania has a new senator now. Guess what his name is.
That Time Louisiana Almost Elected A Neo-Nazi As Governor
In 1991, hideously corrupt former Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards tried to stage a comeback. Four years earlier, he was voted out of office, charged with racketeering, and most of his inner circle went to prison. He was so incredibly unpopular that it was said that he could run against Hitler himself and still lose. Of course, that was a hypothetical -- Hitler wasn't even a legal resident of Louisiana. Instead, Edwards was running against this guy:
That's not a bath robe.
That's David Duke, former KKK Grand Wizard and member of the American Nazi Party. Of course he's a Holocaust denier, which kind of comes with the territory, but he also sold copies of Mein Kampf out of his state legislature office and was involved in a bizarre episode nicknamed the "Bayou of Pigs" incident, in which he plotted to have white supremacist mercenaries invade a Caribbean island.
By all rights, neither Duke nor Edwards should ever have even wound up on the ballot, but due to Louisiana's messed-up primary process and an unfortunate mess of vote-splitting between more reasonable candidates, voters were faced with the most conflicting "lesser-evil" ballot in democratic history. Of course, most people swallowed their pride and pledged to vote for the corrupt politician over the literal leader of the Klan. Average citizens even got into the spirit of the democratic process by making bumper stickers like "Vote for the lizard, not the wizard" and "Vote for the crook. It's important."
This sticker wouldn't work in most elections. It would be too ambiguous.
But that's when Edwards decided to enact maybe the worst strategy possible in this situation: pride. Rather than feigning penance for his corrupt past, he wore it on his sleeve, and even joked about it. He put the "Vote for the crook" bumper sticker on his own car, openly bragged about his extramarital affairs while on the campaign trail, and responded to questions with answers like, "The only thing we have in common is we're both wizards under the sheets."
In the meantime, Duke was beginning to realize that, holy shit, he might actually have a shot at this. So while Edwards was openly insulting his electorate and bragging about how untouchable he was, Duke replaced his white robes with a respectable suit and started kissing babies and shaking hands. By momentarily shelving his "kill all the black people" talking points and discussing normal politics like the economy or "totally not killing all the black people," Duke started to get the voters on his side. Granted, only the white ones.
"Just the TRUE Americans."
The good news (we guess?) is that Edwards still won, 60 percent to 40 percent. But it came down to a terrifyingly close race between a skeevy politician and the leader of the KKK. Louisiana (barely) made the right choice, and we all learned a valuable lesson. If only there were some parallels to draw between this and our current political scenario ...
For insane moments in the history of politics, check out The 6 Most Childish Things Ever Done In Congress and The 6 Most Insane People To Ever Run For President.
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