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Chain Ballots

Chain Ballots

The landmark elections of 1952 and 1953 marked the beginning of the end of “tickets”, poll watchers, voter haulers and canvassers, and voting machines ended the “Chain Ballot” scam, which worked like this:

A car was parked close to a precinct where a pre-coached voter received a folded blank sheet then got a real ballot from the poll commissioner. Pocketing the real ballot the blank paper was dropped into the box.

Participants, because of employment, intimidation or cash, handed the real ballot to the culprit to be marked and handed to the next “chain balloteer”.

The only proof a box had been “chained” was finding a blank paper in the box.

In the elections of 1952 and 1953, out of 44 parishwide precedents, at least 12 were detected.
Suspects were never charged or apprehended and I believe the reasoning was “wish we had thought of it first”. Hypocrisy was nonpartisan during election cycles.

Governor Kennon had promised voting machines and Earl Long was quoted as publically stating “give me a screwdriver and I’ll make any machine whistle Dixie.”

In the 1956 election, with voting machines, the “Old Regulars” decimated the “All Parish” with A.O. Rappelet defeating Senator Clyde Caillouet and Francis Dugas and Eugene Gouaux defeating Representatives R.J. Soignet and Richard “Dick” Guidry.

Eddie St. Marie was elected Sheriff and most of the “All Parish” candidates elected in 1952 were defeated in 1956. Earl Long did not need a screwdriver.

Police Jury (council) President Irving Legendre retained his office but T.M. Barker would soon unseat him.
“Old Regulars” and “All Parish “ were the actual names of the parties.

Two major “All Parish” officials elected in 1952 survived 1956. How? Here’s a long kept secret. Assessor Hubert Robichaux and Clerk of Court Ambroise Landry were running for re-election when Former Senator Harvey Peltier, Sr., still very influential, paid them a visit.

I escorted Mr. Peltier to the private office where they met, and here is the gist of their conversation as later related to me by Mr. Robichaux.

Mr. Peltier: “I tried to defeat you both, but after taking office you gave me respect and took no action that would hurt me in any way, especially the Assessor. Therefore, if you remain neutral in the coming election, the “Old Regulars” will not oppose you.”

He did NOT say: “You two are small potatoes and I’ll make you an offer you can’t refuse”. But wouldn’t that have made a better story? The movie was still decades in the future, so forgive me for imagining that humorous scenario.

They agreed. Mr. Peltier kept his word and they were unopposed and served 30 years with minor opposition.

There was disappointment in the “All Parish” camp where members who had fought to elect the Assessor and Clerk expected their support, but with time political enemies became friends and old feuds were forgotten.

Eventually both factions united to defeat Senator A.O. Rappelet, who had become a faction all by himself, with Harvey Peltier, Jr. who served long and honorably.

To paraphrase Barry Goldwater, in politics “self-preservation is no vice, and political suicide is no virtue.”

Those were interesting political times in Lafourche Parish compared to today. Half of all Louisiana officials are unopposed for the November election including Sheriff Craig Webre, (an unprecedented second time), Assessor Wendy Thibodeaux, Senator Allain, Representatives Richard and Gisclair and Councilman Arnold, among others, which seems to prove my point.

As I began my 47 years in the Assessor’s office, I was able to pursue other ventures at night, on weekends and vacation times playing music, song writing and even radio and television.

Did I ever tell you how I met and interviewed the real Mrs. Casey Jones and Casey’s “Black, Greasy Fireman” Ben? Or how I became good friends with Mrs. Jimmie “Carrie” Rodgers and sang with Hank Thompson’s 13-piece band in front of 4,000 people in a Nashville stadium? Or with Ernest Tubb’s Texas Troubadors on his “Midnight Jamboree”? Or how my family and I were nearly done in by Hurricane Betsy in 1965 trying to evacuate to a Baton Rouge hotel?

I didn’t? Well I sure intend to.

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