On this election day in 2016 I have been reflecting back over past elections. Elections that were personal. Elections that had real consequences. Elections that shaped the education of my children. Elections that shaped the quality of life for my neighbors. Elections mattered then and they matter now. This post is not a diatribe of today’s choices – but rather a fond memory of elections past.
I believe it was 1974, maybe 1978 – way back when there were no voting machines. Way back when paper ballots were counted through the day by election judges appointed by local political parties as a self check against voter manipulation.
It was a time when computers had entered the business world but were not yet understood by the general population. I was a lucky person (I have always been lucky). I worked as a computer programmer. There were only a couple of computers between Kansas City and Omaha. My boss, a noteworthy electronic technician, traffic engineer, communications director, computer whizzbang, and comedian became a politician, running for City Council. We had ward and precinct maps taped to the wall. We talked about upper class, lower class, middle class, and no class voters and pondered how to capture all of their votes.
Did I mention that we had a computer? We had a climate controlled room full of the most sophisticated technology available in the 1970’s. While it was the most sophisticated equipment of the time – it was still just the 1970’s – input was in the form of computer cards, keypunched 80-column computer cards. The whizzbang guy pondered how to use that technology to our political advantage. (Did you notice how I said ‘our’ political advantage? Good politicians help their staff feel ownership of a campaign).
One idea that emerged centered on the ability of the computer to print just about anything very fast. Even then our printer printed 1,100 lines per minute. The boss politician surmised that we could canvass a neighborhood with mailings of computer generated literature. He called the local computer paper sales rep and was informed that the rep had a box of pink post cards on continuous form stock that the campaign could use.
Writing a message for the mailing was easy enough. The problem was in getting the names and addresses. Again, we were living in the dark ages of technology. Names and addresses did not exist in electronic form anywhere but in Putin’s file of captured Clinton emails (just kidding folks). The City Directory was employed and every name and address from the Eighth Ward were keypunched on the 80-column cards.
The post cards were run through the printer twice. Once for the message and again to print the name and address on the reverse side. With the printed cards decollated and stacked we pondered how to make them seem more personal. My memory is fuzzy here – I think we decided to put individual stamps on each of the postcards to give them a less technical feel. Anyway, the cards were mailed. The experiment was under way.
My candidate was a popular local well involved citizen, an Advanced Citizen as Lowell Kruse would later say, and had a good chance of winning a position on the nine member City Council. One had only to finish in the top nine. Those were glorious days for local politicos – we would literally meet in the courthouse basement and watch the ballots coming in from around the city. “There they are. They are coming in. The Eighth Ward is in.” Excitement, excitement. Really – it was a great time.
To cut to the chase, my candidate received about 34 percent of the vote city wide. This was good enough to get him a solid fifth place finish and the honor of serving the city.
He won 34 percent in the Eighth Ward. Absolutely no difference than any other Ward. Have fun thinking about that.
(My candidate was Larry Koch. Mel Goin and John Mullinax and Roger Burnham and others participated in this particular adventure.)