Elections of yore: promises galore and surreptitious swigs of illegal liquids

It is, I suppose, a failing of those of us in the “senior” set to compare things now to how they were decades ago, pre-computers and the instantaneous communications that have irrevocably changed our lives.

The thought struck me, the evening of the first Tuesday in August as results of the primary voting in our quadrennial elections for offices at state, district, and county levels streamed on the TV channels, how light years removed today’s election process is from when I was growing up in rural northeast Mississippi.

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Television was in its infancy and pre-election campaigning relied heavily on radio and newspaper advertising, and “speakings,” where candidates would appear and mingle, shake hands, distribute campaign buttons and flyers, kiss babies, make promises galore, and finally get in front of a microphone to expound (and often as not, expand) on all the things they would do if elected.

The occasions were as much social as political; families would come, and the events took on a picnic atmosphere.

But all that paled beside election days: the August primary — which was mainly to winnow down the candidate field — and the November general election to decide the eventual winner. There was, practically speaking, only one party, Democrat — the occasional candidate who ran as a Republican was considered either a Yankee interloper or an escapee from Whitfield (the state mental institution).

On the courthouse square in our county seat town, a giant blackboard would be constructed, with a painted grid for all the offices and candidates and each voting precinct in the county, as well as columns for district and state offices.

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As polls closed and darkness fell, crowds gathered, and music began playing (country bands and quartets in that pre-Elvis era). People bought food and soft drinks from nearby restaurants or service stations, and menfolk could be seen taking surreptitious swigs from bottles and flasks of liquids with a distinct alcoholic aroma (the county and state were legally “dry”).

As results were brought in from the various county precincts and phoned in from the state capitol, vote tallies were chalked on the giant blackboard. This would go on all night and into the next day, sometimes two or three days, until all ballots were certified and winners officially declared.

Today, in most cases, it’s all over in time for the 10 o’clock news. And not nearly so much fun.

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